NFL free agency has dominated the conversation around the league for much of the past few weeks but as teams fill their needs (or keep their own), attention will slowly drift to next month's big roster-building event when the draft rolls around. While some general managers have to be thrilled at the state of their 53, a few others have work to do when it comes to turning in a card or two on Day 1.
With all that in mind, here's a look at who could go where in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars — Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Urban Meyer and company might as well announce they've already agreed to a deal with Lawrence as the top pick but alas, we'll have several more weeks left to wait before he officially heads to Duval. The good news for the signal-caller is the team got busy in free agency and added some weapons to lean on like veterans Carlos Hyde and Marvin Jones Jr. plus a remade defense.
2. New York Jets — Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
This selection is where the draft really begins and one wonders if the rumors about the Jets waffling on Wilson to stick with Sam Darnold are either a ploy to drive up interest in the pick or some real fire behind the smokescreen. Either way, the starter next year will at least have some better targets around him after the additions of players like Corey Davis.
3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston Texans) — Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU
The team inked Will Fuller as a new deep threat in a still average receiving corps but given his injury history, the team should still be looking for a true No. 1 on the outside. Enter Chase, who has a chance to be a real star right off the bat in South Florida.
4. Atlanta Falcons — Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
Matt Ryan restructured his contract this offseason and given some of the cap hits involved with moving on from him, the team seems to be giving every indication he'll be the QB the next few years. Pitts is a mismatch nightmare and would allow the team to spend the majority of time in two-TE sets with him, Hayden Hurst and those big-time wideouts. Good luck stopping that (if the team doesn't trade down).
5. Cincinnati Bengals — Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
The team has brought in Riley Reiff in free agency but that line still needs help. Sewell is one of the top prospects up front and has a style of play well suited to the AFC North. He may start inside initially before becoming Joe Burrow's new personal protector.
6. Philadelphia Eagles — Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
It feels like linebacker has been an area needing an upgrade for a few years now with the Eagles and what better way to do just that than drafting the native son from Harrisburg? Parsons is tailor-made for the modern NFL and is the rare combination of size/speed/burst/smarts for the position.
7. Detroit Lions — Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Kenny Golladay has moved on for a big payday but Waddle could be a like-for-like replacement into the starting lineup. His speed will provide a nice option deep for new QB Jared Goff and his competitiveness in fighting back from injury is sure to endure the Tide product to new head coach Dan Campbell.
8. Carolina Panthers — Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
The Panthers have been doing their best to get into the mix for trade targets like Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson but maybe the real solution is found through the draft. The debate internally will be between Fields and Lance but you can't help but think the Bison star fits the rebuild window just a tad better.
9. Denver Broncos — Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
The signings of Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby to go with Justin Simmons' big deal make corner less of a need for a roster that's still in decent shape. Fields does give off some John Elway-type vibes in his game with the way he moves and would also benefit from taking some time on the bench before he fully pushes aside an underperforming Drew Lock.
10. Dallas Cowboys — Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC
The Cowboys ponied up for their QB, now it's time to protect him a lot better than they did in 2020. Fellow Trojan Tyron Smith has struggled to stay healthy so Vera-Tucker can be a potential successor on the outside while filling a number of different positions in the starting lineup for the upcoming season, especially on the interior.
11. New York Giants — Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
After splashing a bunch of cash on Leonard Williams, there's still work left to be done for GM Dave Gettleman. The team will have to weigh Rousseau's limited sample size with his top-tier physical attributes but he's got a chance to be a real problem off the edge for years to come.
12. San Francisco 49ers — Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
It might be really tempting for Kyle Shanahan to go after DeVonta Smith because he's so, so polished but addressing the other side of the ball would make more sense in terms of roster construction. Horn has the pedigree and style of play to slide in right away in a 49ers secondary still lacking a few key pieces.
13. Los Angeles Chargers — Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
It's pretty impressive how good Justin Herbert was despite having one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last year. They've already added Corey Linsley in a big splash move and can continue to fill out in the trenches with the addition of Slater.
14. Minnesota Vikings — Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami
The defensive revamp for Mike Zimmer's squad has begun with the signing of Dalvin Tomlinson but there's still plenty left to be done. Phillips is a familiar project for the Vikings given that his best days as a player may be ahead of him in the pros with just a bit of seasoning since he has the physical makeup to be a monster.
15. New England Patriots — Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
With Jason McCourty a free agent and Stephon Gilmore constantly in trade rumors, it makes sense for Bill Belichick to continue to re-tool his secondary with an eye on 2021 and beyond. Newsome has all the tools to thrive at the next level and a little bit of seasoning by the defensive wiz could make him an early impact rookie.
16. Arizona Cardinals — DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Imagine the fight in the Cardinals draft room if Smith is just sitting there for Kliff Kingsbury at the same time GM Steve Keim sees all those holes in his secondary. Still, Smith is just too good of a player to pass up as the natural successor to Larry Fitzgerald.
17. Las Vegas Raiders — Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
Despite a host of signings, the Raiders' secondary still hasn't noticeably improved. Surtain is polished, knows the league well and comes from a DB factory that the front office loves. Plus, he'll be able to handle getting throw right in as a starter without hesitation.
18. Miami Dolphins — Teven Jenkins, OL, Oklahoma State
The Dolphins' offensive line is young and improving but could really get a boost by adding Jenkins to the mix. His ability to finish in the run game plus the ability to protect Tua Tagovailoa's blindside should make for a fun fit in South Florida.
19. Washington Football Team — Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
The WFT's free agency efforts landed a stop-gap solution at QB but unless the team's all-in on Mac Jones, they may be better served waiting until the later rounds to find a young signal-caller. That could free them up to select Collins, who could contribute all over the place for what is already an excellent defense.
20. Chicago Bears — Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
This could be a Mac Jones landing spot even with the Red Rifle's arrival in the Windy City but cutting Kyle Fuller makes that corner spot an even bigger question mark. The latest news of Farley needing microdiscectomy surgery this month could knock him down a lot of draft boards but provide an opportunity for Chicago to land a top-10 player this late in the draft — provided the medicals check out.
21. Indianapolis Colts — Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
Colts fans will be clamoring for an offensive tackle solution but GM Chris Ballard will be hard-pressed to bypass a safety like Moehrig. Not only would he be able to slide in effortlessly in the spot vacated by Malik Hooker, but he's got all the tools to turn into a multi-year Pro Bowler under defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.
22. Tennessee Titans — Jalen Mayfield, OL, Michigan
Mayfield has a chance to start right away in Tennessee at right tackle but his selection could be viewed a bit as Taylor Lewan insurance as well. While it might be a little hard for Mike Vrabel to select a Michigan Man, the latter's toughness will be endearing enough to allow the franchise to completely forget their whiff on Isaiah Wilson last draft.
23. New York Jets (via Seattle Seahawks) — Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
The Jets have spent freely this offseason with all that cap room and can still address their roster in the draft and a multitude of picks. Toney's explosiveness and playmaking ability are hard to come by and could fill that Deebo Samuel role in Mike LaFleur's offense. His ability to get open down the field fits nicely with Zach Wilson's arm.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers — Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
Pretty much every sign has pointed toward Ben Roethlisberger making one final stand in 2021 as the Steelers starter but there is bound to be at least one eye on the future for the front office. Jones' game isn't too far off from Big Ben's and would provide quality injury insurance in the near term before he's eventually handed the reins.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Los Angeles Rams) — Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
Few teams were as active in free agency as the Jags and they still have plenty of moves left to make as they start to build around Trevor Lawrence. Still, Paye is just too good of an athlete to pass up for a defense that still needs a lot of work. Cue the obvious jokes about Urban Meyer drafting a Wolverine but Paye's ability to line up in about seven different spots would be mighty appealing.
26. Cleveland Browns — Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri
It feels strange to think that Cleveland is just cruising along delighting the fan base with their offseason moves but that's where we're at after the additions of guys like John Johnson III. Bolton would be an excellent complement at the second level as somebody who flies around and could do work in the bruising AFC North.
27. Baltimore Ravens — Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
Lamar Jackson would love for the Ravens to be aggressive in trading up to land one of the top wideouts on the board or see one of them slip to No. 27 but if that's not the case, the team will likely take the best player left on the board. In this situation, that might be Darrisaw, who would become the easy solution to Orlando Brown seeking a trade.
28. New Orleans Saints — Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
Lots of issues with the Saints' roster still need to be addressed after seemingly half the team was a cap casualty but Owusu-Koramoah could fill a variety of roles and become a replacement for both Alex Anzalone and Kwon Alexander.
29. Green Bay Packers — Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky
The Packers haven't exactly spent their early draft capital super wisely but reaching ever so slightly for Davis makes sense. He'd instantly be a boost up the spine against the run and has the athleticism to stick on all three downs too.
30. Buffalo Bills — Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
Vernon Butler is sticking around for one more year after restructuring his contract but the Bills could still stand to upgrade his position after an underwhelming effort from the defensive front last year. Barmore does have some inconsistencies but was a monster when it counted late in the season for the Tide and has all the tools to be a multi-year Pro Bowler.
31. Kansas City Chiefs — Joe Tryon, EDGE, Washington
Lots of work still to be done along that offensive line in the draft but KC won't reach too far if there's not a player they completely love. Elsewhere in the trenches though, Tryon could fill a vital role off the edge and be a nice complement to the pieces already in place on that front seven.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
After keeping most of their own free agents, the Bucs are primed to run it back again in 2021. Harris is going to be really tough to pass up with the final pick in the first round as he's a perfect solution between the tackles that can also contribute as a receiver out of the backfield.
— 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.
(Zach Wilson photo courtesy of byucougars.com)