2021 NFL Mock Draft: First-Round Predictions (late February edition)

With Carson Wentz headed to Indianapolis, Philadelphia could add a new quarterback through the draft

The Super Bowl champs have been crowned and all 32 franchises are now fully engrossed in draft prep work with an eye toward the next pursuit of the Lombardi Trophy. While this time of year will be unique without an NFL Scouting Combine to gather information on prospects, the pursuit of that key difference-maker remains what every scout, front office executive and coach are focused on. Thanks to a handful of early trades, some teams are already seeing their needs change and with that the outlook in the first round later this spring.

 

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 Jags brass were naturally in attendance for Lawrence's superb pro day effort in the latest item to check off on the list as they move toward picking the Tigers superstar atop the draft. While there might be some concern about his shoulder surgery, it's not the worst thing to get it out of the way early so he's ready to go for camp down in Duval.

 

2. New York Jets — Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

General manager Joe Douglas' phone will probably get busier the closer we get to the draft, but if the Jets stay put, it continues to look like a reset button on the QB position is coming by bringing in the electric Wilson to change the franchise's fortunes.

 

3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston Texans) — Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU

You have to go back several years to a time where the Dolphins had one, much less two, true threats in the passing game at receiver. Chase solves that right away as the explosive playmaker Tua needs to thrive in South Florida.

 

4. Atlanta Falcons — Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

The Falcons hope they won't be hanging around this part of the draft again, and for as much as the new regime in charge wants to add another key piece, landing a long-term QB should be just as paramount. Maybe the selection elevates Matt Ryan's game like Aaron Rodgers' did last season, but if not, at least the team won't be pressed into playing Lance right away despite being a good fit for new head coach Arthur Smith's scheme.

 

5. Cincinnati Bengals — Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

Pitts is just such a mismatch for most defenses that he can instantly make his QB that much better. While Joe Burrow knows better than most that offensive line upgrades are needed, landing a pass-catching talent like Pitts doesn't come along often.

 

6. Philadelphia Eagles — Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

Carson Wentz has exited stage left, and while that would seemingly solidify Jalen Hurts' status, the front office won't blink an eye at landing another top QB with their first-rounder no matter how much they think they're committed to Hurts. The presumed starter knows this situation all too well from his time in college, but Fields could represent a long-term bet at solidifying the position.

 

7. Detroit Lions — Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

So many different directions the franchise can go in light of the Jared Goff trade, but if we're talking pressing need, it might be the gigantic hole at linebacker more than anything. Parsons is one of the most unique athletes in the draft and could be a starter right away in Detroit.

 

8. Carolina Panthers — Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

While the Panthers may be doing their best to find an upgrade at QB, they should be just fine to see Sewell's name fall to them at No. 8 given he's one of the most polished offensive linemen in the draft. Matt Rhule and Co. won't shy away from drafting the best player available by any means.

 

9. Denver Broncos — Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

The lack of bodies in the secondary means the front office figures to be looking heavily at taking a corner in the draft, and Surtain has the pedigree and tape to match. While some may have Caleb Farley a bit higher on their boards, the pressing need to win now for Vic Fangio could nudge them toward the player who played last season and won a title.

 

10. Dallas Cowboys — Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern

A new, high-priced defensive coordinator should usher in plenty of selections on that side of the ball, but Slater figures to be hard to pass up here given how the tackle spot has been an Achilles heel the past few seasons.

 

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

It's no secret that Daniel Jones needs better protection and better weapons, but it's rare this front office will pass up the opportunity to add a playmaker in the trenches. Rousseau has rare size coming off the edge and his versatility should allow him to be used all over in an improving defense in the Big Apple.

 

12. San Francisco 49ers — Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

The 49ers are a lock to add some free agents in the secondary given the depth chart is pretty much empty, but a new long-term starter can be found with the pick of Farley. He has all the traits of a No. 1 corner and could fit in well given all the dynamic QBs and WRs he'll face in this division.

 

13. Los Angeles Chargers — Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC

Since most scouts are staying local, the Chargers might as well head across town for their selection too. Vera-Tucker has shown he can play either guard or tackle and should step in as a Day 1 starter protecting Justin Herbert.

 

14. Minnesota Vikings — Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami

The Vikings are no stranger to drafting a high-upside pass rusher with their first-rounder, and Phillips fits that bill. His ceiling might be the highest in the entire class off the edge and could form quite a tandem opposite a healthy Danielle Hunter.

 

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

You know that Bill Belichick would get the real scouting report on Waddle from his old buddy Nick Saban, who will likely rave about the wideout's competitiveness and ability to line up pretty much everywhere in any formation. It's been a long time since the Pats have had a No. 1 threat at receiver, but Waddle could be that right away as a rookie.

 

16. Arizona Cardinals — DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

You probably don't have to ask Kliff Kingsbury or Kyler Murray twice about adding the Heisman Trophy winner. Good luck to defenses seeing Smith and DeAndre Hopkins line up next to each other.

 

17. Las Vegas Raiders — Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU

As bummed as Jon Gruden has to be about missing out on either of the Alabama wideouts, GM Mike Mayock will be gushing over what Moehrig can do for the Raiders' lackluster secondary. Given they will face off against Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert four times a year for the next decade or so, the instinctive TCU safety can help make the defense better in a number of ways.

 

18. Miami Dolphins — Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

Miami could be a candidate to move both up and down the board with their second first-rounder, but they could really help transform the offense by nabbing Darrisaw to pair with Austin Jackson and allow Robert Hunt to kick inside to a more natural guard spot.

 

19. Washington Football Team — Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

Alex Smith still has to make a decision, and despite a new contract, is Taylor Heinicke really the future after such a small sample size? Jones has garnered split opinions in the scouting process, but Ron Rivera won't mind another low-maintenance QB he can build around the next few years.

 

20. Chicago Bears — Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan

Perhaps a solution other than Nick Foles (or Mitchell Trubisky's return) reveals itself for the Bears, but they have to get better up front either way. Enter Mayfield, who could start as a rookie at right tackle and provide an immediate boost to the run game too.

 

21. Indianapolis Colts — Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida

The Colts may or may not bring back T.Y. Hilton to pair with new acquisition Carson Wentz, but even if they do, Toney could help supercharge the offense with another dynamic playmaker. He would also pair well with Michael Pittman Jr. in Frank Reich's offense.

 

22. Tennessee Titans — Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame

Owusu-Koramoah seems like just the kind of linebacker that Mike Vrabel will love for his ability to just make a play on nearly every snap. While you could nitpick his size a bit, he could be just the solution the team has been searching for off the edge.

 

23. New York Jets (via Seattle Seahawks) — Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

The Jets have the cash to bring in a big name at corner, but they could still nab a starter in the back half of the first round. Horn's ability to play near the line of scrimmage should endear him to new head coach Robert Saleh and allow him to play right away as a rookie despite still needing a tad more polish.

 

24. Pittsburgh Steelers — Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa

Ben Roethlisberger's status is the talk of the Steel City, but there are plenty of other key issues for the front office to sort out in addition to fixing a tough cap situation. It wouldn't be surprising to see Bud Dupree walk as a result, but at least Collins' could help replace his production on that swarming defense.

 

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Los Angeles Rams) — Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan

In a move bound to light up the airwaves in Columbus and Ann Arbor, Paye could be a nice fit coming off the edge of a defense that has to get some fresh legs. Urban Meyer is sure to have studied him closely and has to believe he can help unlock all that athleticism at the next level.

 

26. Cleveland Browns — Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri

The Browns have plenty of talent on the roster for a growing team and cap room to spend but Bolton could be a terrific upgrade in the middle of the defense. His ability to come downhill is well suited to the AFC North, and he has the tools to be a three-down player the team can build around.

 

27. Baltimore Ravens — Joe Tryon, EDGE, Washington

This feels like a prime spot for the Ravens to trade back into the early second round to garner yet more draft capital, but Tryon could be a quality solution for a defense that has been improved in recent years but could be replacing some key free agents. His ability to get after the quarterback while also giving it his all in the run game will make him a good fit in Baltimore.

 

28. New Orleans Saints — Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama

There are going to be a lot of interesting moves made with the Saints' roster, and that's not even getting to an announcement on Drew Brees' likely retirement. Barmore has his detractors, but the upside is there as a guy with top-15 talent. As defensive coordinator Dennis Allen looks to get a bit more out of Cameron Jordan and Co., adding Barmore to take some pressure off in the middle could prove an effective solution.

 

29. Green Bay Packers — Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State

Everybody will await this selection to see if the Packers get Aaron Rodgers some help, and that they do by landing Jenkins. His ability to add to the downhill running game the team wants is a plus and he'll provide some cover for recovering left tackle David Bakhtiari before eventually forming a nice opposite number at right tackle.

 

30. Buffalo Bills — Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

The Bills have to like their tailbacks on the roster, but they probably don't love them given how it was sometimes difficult to find a ton of consistency running the ball. Harris should solve those issues while remaining a key weapon out of the backfield for his old Alabama OC, Brian Daboll. Pity the defenses that have to find a way to tackle both Harris and Josh Allen multiple times a game.

 

31. Kansas City Chiefs — Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

Watching the Super Bowl, it's clear the offensive line is an area of focus in the draft for the Chiefs, but some additional talent on the back end of the defense should be in play too. Newsome is extremely polished and has all the traits to contribute right away for another Lombardi run.

 

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

As the season went on, it's clear the Bucs' coaching staff never seemed settled on their backfield — even if that became a bit of a different story in the postseason run. Etienne fits all the attributes head coach Bruce Arians wants in a lead tailback and would be a dangerous weapon for Tom Brady to lean on for all three downs.

 

— 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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