2021 NFL Mock Draft: First-Round Predictions (early January edition)

After his monster Sugar Bowl performance, Justin Fields' stock is soaring

An unprecedented NFL regular season is finally in the books and we're just around the corner from an expanded playoff field that should usher in even more drama around the league. With college football limping to the finish that can mean only one thing: it's now draft season.

 

While we are still months away from selections being made and a very rocky pre-draft process still to navigate, there are still plenty of connections being made between certain prospects (not all of whom have officially announced their plans) and the teams who are locked into a draft slot.

 

With that in mind, here's an early look at who could go where in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

 

1. Jacksonville Jaguars — Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

We're not too far removed from Andrew Luck leaving Stanford to call Lawrence a generational prospect but that's an apt descriptor for a guy who has pretty much done it all at the college level on the field and checks all the boxes in terms of physical attributes. The only question left is if the Jags want to sign him early or feign interest in trading down.

 

2. New York Jets — Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

Since missing out on the top pick, attention in the Big Apple has turned to the franchise making a decision on Sam Darnold's future. While there is upside with selections like Zach Wilson or Justin Fields, general manager Joe Douglas and a new coaching staff can still unearth the potential in their starting signal-caller. Getting him help remains paramount, which means nabbing Sewell to form the best young tackle tandem in the league with Mekhi Becton.

 

3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston Texans) — Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern

The chatter about Miami moving on from Tua Tagovailoa remains just that, chatter. It makes far more sense to keep building around their young QB to give him every chance to succeed. As a result, Slater can slide in at tackle opposite Austin Jackson to give the team some franchise-building blocks up front and fix a long-neglected area of need.

 

4. Atlanta Falcons — Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

Matt Ryan is aging out of his prime and on a big contract. Fields is an Atlanta native that could be the QB of the future in a division that seems wide open once Drew Brees, Tom Brady et al. retire. Given how it looks like the entire organization is going to undergo a full reboot from the front office on down, might as well add a new face under center to the mix too.

 

5. Cincinnati Bengals — Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU

Joe Burrow needs a new No. 1 receiver, so why not pair him up with an old buddy from Baton Rouge who helped fuel one of the most prolific offenses in college football history? Chase opted out of the 2020 campaign so he'll be fresh and ready to go as Burrow's top option for years to come.

 

6. Philadelphia Eagles — Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

The Eagles have lacked a defensive stud to complement all those Pro Bowl defensive linemen but they find a perfect pairing in nabbing the athletic Parsons to captain the back seven. The Harrisburg native might as well make the in-state move from State College to Philly for both sentimental and football reasons.

 

7. Detroit Lions — Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

Matthew Stafford wanting to see out his final years on a contender could line up nicely with the franchise drafting his replacement with this top-10 pick. Wilson is not unlike a more athletic version of the team's current QB and could be just the kind of selection that energizes a fan base going through a new change in direction under new ownership.

 

8. Carolina Panthers — Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

There's not a large sample size to judge Lance on but what he has put on tape has been impressive enough, combined with his physical attributes, to land in the top 10. Matt Rhule has an eye on building a sustainable team for years to come so he won't be scared off by any need to give the Bison star some time to sit and learn behind a vet like Teddy Bridgewater.

 

9. Denver Broncos — Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

Farley is still a tad raw and missed the past year after opting out but his upside might be the highest of any corner in this year's draft class. He's an athletic freak and the former high school QB is known for being a hard worker at his new craft. He could slide in right away as a starter for an already good Denver defense.

 

10. Dallas Cowboys — Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

The Cowboys once had the best offensive line in football but, as we saw this season, that is no longer the case. Darrisaw can help re-tool up front while the team goes about protecting Dak Prescott in a far better manner going forward.

 

11. New York Giants — Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami

It's no secret that the Giants need to juice their pass rush and Rousseau fits that bill perfectly given his combination of size and speed coming off the edge. It might take a little bit for the GM and coaching staff to overlook his opt-out from the season but when they put on the tape they'll see a key piece to the G-Men's defense for years to come.

 

12. San Francisco 49ers — Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

While the 49ers will get healthy on offense going into 2021, the needs on defense are just too glaring not to address with this pick. Surtain is a plug-and-play-caliber corner that can take over Richard Sherman's old spot for years to come by the Bay. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan also will be excited over how the second-generation pro knows what to do in the NFL from day one as the franchise hopes to return to the Super Bowl in short order.

 

13. Los Angeles Chargers — Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama

The depth of pass catchers could allow more weapons for Justin Herbert to be added later but up first is protecting their young QB in the trenches. Leatherwood could fill either tackle spot and help in the run game early in his career.

 

14. Minnesota Vikings — Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas

It's no secret that Kirk Cousins had a hand in his face just about every drop back this past season despite having one of the more productive run games to lean on. Riley Reiff could be on the way out the door so Cosmi could slide in right away and provide for a cheaper replacement that could be a better long-term fit.

 

15. New England Patriots — Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

How long have we been discussing the Patriots' lack of weapons at receiver? Hopefully Bill Belichick doesn't overthink things and just goes with one of the most polished wideouts in the draft who can instantly energize the passing attack from the moment he arrives in Foxborough.

 

16. Arizona Cardinals — Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

The team doesn't have a difference-maker at tight end right now and will likely have to find a safety-valve replacement for Larry Fitzgerald over the middle of the field either now or next year. Enter Pitts, who is just the kind of hybrid player who could fit in perfectly as Kyler Murray's new best friend.

 

17. Las Vegas Raiders — Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan

The one thing that has been holding the Raiders back from taking the next step is their defense and Mike Mayock's task this draft will be overhauling that side of the ball completely. Paye has the explosiveness in the edge that can help give some juice to a pass rush that failed to adequately pressure the QB.

 

18. Miami Dolphins — DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

The lack of weapons in Miami figures to get rectified in a big way this draft and what better way to give a boost to Tua and the passing game than his old pal from Tuscaloosa?

 

Note: Picks 19-32 are ordered based on playoff teams' records, but won't be finalized until the postseason concludes.

 

19. Washington Football Team — Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

Don't be shocked if the WFT aims to move up a few spots to secure OL help but if they stick here, they could still have their pick among top wideouts. Bateman's sure hands and size would turn him into a fantastic running mate to Terry McLaurin.

 

20. Chicago Bears — Walker Little, OT, Stanford

Yes they likely need a new young QB, but won't pick high enough to land one. If they give it a go with Nick Foles in 2021, they'll need to protect him much better and could swap Little in for either of their two tackles that could be cap casualties this offseason.

 

21. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Los Angeles Rams) — Joseph Ossai, LB, Texas

Trevor Lawrence will have a pretty solid collection of skill-position talent to begin with and the massive amount of cap space the team has can help with the offensive line in free agency. As a result, this additional first-round pick can go towards finding an impact player to boost the second level, which Ossai undoubtedly can do given his burst off the line.

 

22. Indianapolis Colts — Azeez Ojulari, LB, Georgia

Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus has done a good enough job overcoming injuries and navigating an aging group of players rushing the passer but the team would be wise to look for an upgrade off the edge. A fast riser this past year, Ojulari would continue to fill out the Colts' front seven while bringing a bit more juice to the pass rush after living in the backfield in 2020.

 

23. Cleveland Browns — Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

There's a bit of a drop-off at cornerback after Horn in this year's draft so Cleveland would be wise to jump on this selection to help upgrade that secondary.

 

24. Tennessee Titans — Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, EDGE, Notre Dame

Giving up big plays continues to hamper Mike Vrabel's defense and the lack of pressure on the QB has a big reason to do with it. The Irish star can help on that front plus provide the ability to stay on the field all three downs as a regular starter early as a rookie.

 

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC

Keeping a hand out of Tom Brady's face remains paramount as the ageless wonder continues and the investment up front is likely to continue with Vera-Tucker. He brings positional flexibility to the point where he could handle either tackle spot or kick inside if needed.

 

26. Baltimore Ravens — Wyatt Davis, OL, Ohio State

The Ravens never were quite the same in the trenches after Marshal Yanda retired but the addition of Davis could help change that as the team doubles down on their run-first identity. Tailback and fellow Buckeye J.K. Dobbins likely gives this pick a big thumbs up.

 

27. New York Jets (via Seattle Seahawks) — Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

The Jets will be going heavy to find additional weapons on offense and will not bat an eyelash at going against conventional wisdom in spending this draft capital on Etienne. Yes he plays running back but he is also the best threat out of the backfield in the draft and is ready to go in pass protection right away too.

 

28. Pittsburgh Steelers — Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

How many times did you hear about the Steelers' trouble running the football this season? They heard it too and with James Conner unlikely to be the featured guy come 2021, this is a move with an eye to get back to the team's deep-rooted identity while adding yet another weapon on offense.

 

29. New Orleans Saints — Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue

It still appears as though Sean Payton is ready to turn the team over to Taysom Hill upon Drew Brees' departure so finding a replacement for Hill's versatility could be how the team addresses their first-round pick. Moore's health is a bit of a question but his electric nature in this offense will be one to watch for years to come.

 

30. Buffalo Bills — Carlos Basham Jr., EDGE, Wake Forest

Basham fits the bill as a versatile defender who could be a nice addition to a young core up front as the Bills hope to upgrade their defense after allowing a few too many big plays in 2020.

 

31. Green Bay Packers — Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU

Aaron Rodgers has played at an MVP form but he's still in need of a No. 2 to the terrific Devante Adams. Marshall took on an added role with the Tigers after Ja'Marr Chase's opt-out and could be the perfect complement to what is already in Green Bay.

 

32. Kansas City Chiefs — Trevon Moehrig, DB, TCU

The Chiefs get the luxury of having a good roster and the opportunity to pick up veterans at low rates so there are not a ton of glaring needs for the reigning champs. Moehrig could be a great long-term play as both an upgrade at safety while becoming a new leader on the backend.

 

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.

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