We are now down to the “elite eight” in the 2020-21 NFL playoffs, which means that three-quarters of the 2021 NFL Draft order is set in stone. And what better way to celebrate a successful Super Wild Card Weekend than to drop a new 2021 NFL mock draft.
This particular mock doesn’t project what I think teams will do; it rather represents what I would do if I were in charge of making the picks for all 32 NFL teams. The order is based on the current projections for the divisional round and beyond.
There’s a lot of attention on this year’s quarterback class, as there is a good amount of supply but far more demand. From the Jaguars at the No. 1 overall pick to teams with a declining passer like the Pittsburgh Steelers, well over a third of the league could take a quarterback in the first round if those signal-callers are there for the choosing.
Without further ado, here is how the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft would look like if I were making the picks for all 32 NFL teams.
There’s only one scenario where the Jacksonville Jaguars shouldn’t take Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall pick, and that is if they trade it to Houston for quarterback Deshaun Watson. Otherwise, this decision is as much a no-brainer as they will ever get.
Lawrence has everything you could want in a franchise quarterback. The Clemson star is the only quarterback in the PFF College era to earn a 90.0-plus grade as a true freshman, sophomore and as a junior.
2. NEW YORK JETS: QB ZACH WILSON, BYU
Easy schedule be damned, Wilson lit up his opposition in the same manner Joe Burrow and LSU did in 2019. The BYU quarterback recorded an elite passing grade above 90.0 in eight of his 12 games played this season, with his lowest-graded game sitting at 75.4.
Wilson’s arm talent is truly special, and he can make off-platform throws look easy. No quarterback threw an accurate ball on a higher rate of their 20-plus-yard passes this season (73%).
Even though they missed out on Lawrence, Jets fans should be ecstatic about Wilson. He’s the real deal.
3. MIAMI DOLPHINS (VIA HOU): QB JUSTIN FIELDS, OHIO STATE
It's not that I don't have faith in Tua Tagovailoa becoming a great franchise quarterback; I just think that Justin Fields has a better chance of becoming one.
First off, Fields is a better prospect than Tua was coming out. And considering that Tua still has a lot to prove after this season, this should be an easy choice.
Fields did have a couple of hiccups this season against the coverage rotations of Indiana and Northwestern, but he bounced back in a big way in the College Football Playoff Semifinal. The Ohio State Buckeye got his revenge on the Clemson Tigers and put together one of the best CFP performances we have ever recorded. Fields caught Clemson off-guard several times with tempo and came away with a 94.6 passing grade. He was deadly accurate in that contest and has been throughout the entire season. In fact, Fields leads all FBS quarterbacks in the percentage of accurate passes thrown beyond the line of scrimmage (73.4%) by eight percentage points.
The Buckeyes' offensive scheme is favorable, and it has benefitted from top-tier route-runners opening up a lot of throws, but Fields has still shown exceptional decision-making and accuracy. And let’s not forget how much of a threat he is in the run game.
This is about the worst possible scenario for the Falcons, who are dangerously close to entering quarterback purgatory with Matt Ryan running out of time.
There is a chance that the Dolphins go Wilson or Fields at No. 3, but if they don’t, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a scenario where Atlanta sends the fourth pick and some change to Miami in exchange for the third. But if the first three quarterbacks are snapped up within the first three picks, the Falcons should take Ja’Marr Chase.
The former LSU receiver opted out of the 2020 season but was dominant alongside Burrow and Justin Jefferson in 2019. Chase still ranks second among all college wide receivers over the last two seasons in total explosive receptions of 15-plus yards against single coverage despite not even playing this year. He was that good.
Chase’s physicality and release package are NFL-ready, and those two strengths equated to massive success against press coverage. Since 2019, Chase ranks first in total receiving yards against press coverage, with 1,048. Again, he did not play a down this season.
First things first, Cincinnati should 100% take Ja’Marr Chase over Penei Sewell if they are faced with that decision. But that is not the case here, so on with Sewell!
Sewell recorded a 95.8 PFF grade in 2019, which still stands as the highest-graded season by a Power 5 tackle since 2014. At 6-foot-6, 325-pounds, it’s quite amazing watching Sewell move in space — the overall athleticism is off the charts. He earned a 95.7 grade as a run-blocker in 2019 and was also nearly perfect in pass protection, allowing just seven pressures on 491 snaps.
Smith was always likely to end up as a first-round receiver, but what he has done for the Crimson Tide this season has skyrocketed him into top-10 status.
Amari Cooper’s 2014 season and Ja’Marr Chase’s 2019 season were some of the most dominant years we have seen at the position, but Smith — the 2020 Heisman winner — has topped it. His 94.7 receiving grade entering the College Football National Championship game is the best ever recorded at the position by nearly a full grading point.
Smith has it all, from his releases to his ball skills to his route-running to his after-the-catch ability, and he has been virtually impossible to cover this season. Sure, his thin frame is less than ideal, and he’s not going to run the fastest 40 at the 2021 NFL Scouting Combine (which is overrated anyway), but Smith is still winning despite that.
Detroit is in a tough spot with wide receivers Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amendola all slated to hit free agency. The good news is that they are in a position to grab one of the most electric wide receivers college football has ever seen.
Waddle missed most of the 2020 season due to a fractured ankle, but the Bama receiver was truly an explosive play waiting to happen in the four games he appeared in. He generated a Power 5-best 4.68 yards per route run, averaged 10.7 yards after the catch, teamed up for a perfect passer rating of 158.3 on his 29 targets and hauled in 329 deep receiving yards. The latter still ranks 13th among all Power 5 receivers despite appearing just four times all year.
Waddle reportedly ran a 4.37 40-yard dash coming out of high school. He is a threat to house it anytime he gets the ball with that speed and explosiveness.
Oh, hello! Mac Jones has skyrocketed up draft boards this season and, in my opinion, has played his way above North Dakota State's Trey Lance.
Teddy Bridgewater didn't particularly hit the ground running in Carolina. He produced just a 66.4 passing grade (28th) and has been one of the worst downfield passers in the league, ranking fifth-to-last in uncatchable pass rate on passes thrown 10 or more yards downfield.
With Jones, the Panthers still won’t be getting a bazooka of an arm, but they will be getting a pinpoint accurate passer, a sharp decision-maker and a quarterback who has routinely displayed perfect timing and anticipation in Alabama’s offense.
Jones enters tonight's national championship game with the highest PFF grade that we have ever given to a Power 5 quarterback at 95.7, breaking the record set by Burrow in 2019. He also shattered the previous record for best single-season negatively graded throw rate (that was also previously held by Burrow in 2019) by a great distance.
He's 6-foot-4, 226 pounds and has an absolute cannon for an arm. John Elway may not be calling the shots anymore for the Broncos, but the former general manager and now team president will be licking his lips if Lance is still on the board when the Broncos pick at No. 9.
The Broncos should absolutely swing the bat here because Drew Lock has proven that he is not the long-term guy. Lock has appeared in 18 games in his two-year NFL career and has come away with the league’s third-worst passing grade over that span (61.8). No quarterback has thrown a higher rate of uncatchable passes than Lock (28%) on throws beyond the line of scrimmage since 2019. It’s time for a new era.
Lance’s “showcase game” back in October against Central Arkansas left a lot to be desired through the air, but he sure showcased his elite athleticism on the ground. He carried the ball 15 times (13 designed, two scrambles) that game and put up six explosive runs of 10-plus yards, forcing nine broken tackles along the way.
Unfortunately, the accuracy was still relatively poor, as Lance threw just 28.6% of his passes accurately in the game. He did show off his arm strength numerous times, but accuracy is king, and that’s why he is QB5 here. Lance’s physical tools and decision-making are still worth taking a shot on here, though.
It’s no secret that Dallas struggled in the secondary in 2020, so taking Caleb Farley here will most certainly help that. Before opting out of the 2020 season, Farley allowed one or fewer catches in seven of his 11 starts in 2019 while intercepting four passes and breaking up nine en route to a 26.8 passer rating allowed and 90.5 coverage grade.
Farley has all the physical tools needed to thrive in the NFL. One of the only issues for me is the lack of press-man he played in Virginia Tech’s defense, but he has the tools to succeed in that department at the NFL level.
11. NEW YORK GIANTS: TE KYLE PITTS, FLORIDA
Pitts generated a 96.2 PFF grade this year, more than five grading points higher than any other tight end and well above the previous record set by former FAU Owl and now-Cleveland Brown Harrison Bryant in 2019 (92.5). The Giants receiving corps was one of the worst in the NFL in 2020 — the selection of Pitts goes a long way toward changing that.
The versatile tight end played just shy of 64% of his offensive snaps inline, but he dominated unlike any other tight end we had ever seen when he lined up out wide in single coverage. Pitts went toe-to-toe with press coverage when lined up out wide for 40 receiving snaps this season and came away with seven explosive receptions of 15-plus yards on those opportunities. We have never seen a tight end record more than two of those in a single year before Pitts this season.
12. MIAMI DOLPHINS (VIA SF): LB MICAH PARSONS, PENN STATE
TRADE! San Francisco sends the 12th overall pick (and others) to Miami for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
The Niners, in this scenario, find themselves in the out-of-luck category here, with the top five quarterbacks snatched off the board in the top 10. However, they take themselves out of that category by making a phone call to Miami and acquiring Tagovailoa. Miami, in turn, uses the 12th pick on the best off-ball linebacker prospect since Luke Kuechly.
Parsons opted out of the 2020 season and didn’t play a down all year, but he was the highest-graded player at the position (91.6) the year prior. He shined in nearly every facet with a 94.8 run-defense grade, 26 pressures on 94 rushes and just six missed tackles on 111 attempts. The only knock is the subpar ball production (four pass breakups in two years), but the combination of power, explosiveness and overall athleticism for a human his size, along with the standout tackling, blitzing prowess and instinctual play, makes him a rare prospect that I’m sure Brian Flores would covet.
Cosmi was excellent in his first two years starting at tackle for the Longhorns in 2018 and 2019, earning PFF grades of 79.7 and 83.9. This year, he took his play to elite status, earning a 90.5 PFF grade in the process. When projecting offensive linemen from college to the NFL, we at PFF like to isolate their performance to true pass sets (i.e., no play-action, screen, rollout, RPO, quick throw, three-man rush). On those plays, Cosmi was the sixth-highest-graded tackle in the entire FBS this season. He has incredible movement skills for the position and should be able to handle NFL quicks a lot better than most.
14. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: EDGE KWITY PAYE, MICHIGAN
No team produced a lower pass-rush grade or pressure rate in the 2020 NFL season than Minnesota. Vikings fans, let me introduce you to Kwity Paye — A.K.A. the top edge rusher in the class. Paye only played in four games this past season but was still able to rack up 22 pressures and an 87.1 pass-rush grade. He is an athletic freak and showed signs of improvement from a technical standpoint in 2020.
We don't know who will be leading the Pats’ offense next season, but that QB is obviously going to need some new receiving weapons.
Rashod Bateman certainly fits the bill. The Minnesota product is another top-notch route-runner with an elite release package. He played predominantly on the outside in 2019 before kicking inside into the slot for most of the shortened 2020 season, but he remained productive regardless of position. Bateman ranked seventh in the FBS in yards per route run in 2019 (3.48) and finished sixth in 2020 (3.45). The Minnesota receiver joined DeVonta Smith as the only receiver to generate more than 3.4 yards per route in each of the last two seasons.
Despite being tasked with playing on an island more than any cornerback in the country, Surtain comes in at No. 1 at his position in PFF grade this year (89.7). Surtain allowed less than 15 yards in coverage in exactly half of his games played, and he never allowed any more than 60 in one outing. Perhaps the most underappreciated aspect of his game this year has been his discipline, as he has yet to commit a single penalty. Surtain has the size, physicality and press skills that teams covet in the NFL.
The Raiders have trotted out one of the league's worst secondaries for a number of years now, and adding a playmaker like Moehrig to the group should surely help dig them out of that rut.
Moehrig is fresh off taking home the Jim Thorpe Award given to college football’s top defensive back and has been one of the best players at the position for over the last two years. He has 26 combined interceptions and pass breakups since 2019, six more than any other FBS safety in that span. With his size, length, strength and superb play at the catch point, Moehrig is the clear-cut top safety in the class.
18. MIAMI DOLPHINS: WR RONDALE MOORE, PURDUE
After adding a new franchise quarterback and a generational linebacker prospect to their already top-10 defense, Miami now brings an electric receiving threat to the offense.
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Boilermaker is one of the most impressive athletes in the class. With his speed, explosiveness and power, Moore is dangerous in an open field. As a true freshman back in 2018, Moore set a Power 5 record in total broken tackles after the catch (37) that still stands to this day.
There is some risk involved here, as Moore has hardly played over the last couple of years (just seven games in 2019 and 2020), and we haven’t really seen him win consistently with his routes downfield due to the Purdue offense, but it’s hard to ignore what he put on tape as a freshman in 2018.
Darrisaw didn’t quite break Penei Sewell's record for the highest single-season PFF grade by a Power 5 tackle (95.8), but he certainly challenged it, and he did so despite going against far stiffer competition. Darrisaw led all Power 5 tackles in both pass- and run-blocking grade this year, culminating in a 95.6 PFF overall grade for the season. The Virginia Tech left tackle logged 293 pass-block snaps across 10 starts in 2020, yet he allowed just six pressures, all of which were hurries. He also notched the highest positively graded run-block rate in the Power 5 for his efforts as a people-mover in the Hokies' zone-rushing attack.
20. CHICAGO BEARS: WR KADARIUS TONEY, FLORIDA
Toney moves in a way that is almost hard to believe. His combination of balance, agility and explosiveness makes him near impossible to tackle. The Florida wideout has touched the ball 187 times in his college career and has broken a whopping 66 tackles while averaging 8.5 yards after the catch. He’s going to be one of the most difficult players to tackle in the league from Day 1 in the NFL.
The one big question mark on him is his route-running. Toney has certainly flashed some high-end reps, but he isn't quite that complete route-runner yet. While the Florida Gator may be a bit of a risk, he is one worth taking a shot on for a team like the Bears, who have had an anemic offense for years.
Rousseau is one of the biggest unknowns in the class, but his physical tools give him the chance to pay big dividends. Size, length, athleticism, bend, versatility are all boxes the 6-foot-6, 260-pound defensive linemen checks, but consistency and production are not. Yes, he notched 16 sacks in 2019, but that’s a bit noisy. Over half of those sacks were charted as either unblocked or as a cleanup sack, and Rousseau ranked outside the top 50 in the FBS in pass-rush grade and win rate.
He’s going to be a bit of a project, but the flashes of high-end reps and the tools are too hard to ignore.
22. TENNESSEE TITANS: EDGE AZEEZ OJULARI, GEORGIA
Ojulari broke out in a big way in 2020. He raised his 71.4 pass-rushing grade from 2019 to 91.7 this past season, ranking second in the FBS. Ojulari forced three strip-sack fumbles and also generated a 24.3% pass-rush, ranking top five at his position in the FBS. Whether or not the Titans bring back Jadeveon Clowney, they need an explosive pass-rusher like Ojulari.
23. NEW YORK JETS (VIA SEA): CB JAYCEE HORN, SOUTH CAROLINA
Horn plays bully ball. He is sometimes a bit too physical, but it often helps him shut down his opponent. Across seven games this season, Horn allowed just eight catches while making nine plays on the ball. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound corner is physical at the line of scrimmage and has played the third-most press coverage snaps per catch allowed in the Power Five (23.0) since 2019.
Slater can play anywhere along the offensive line at the next level, including right tackle — where current Steelers tackle Chukwuma Okorafor has struggled.
The Northwestern lineman opted out of the 2020 season, but he put up an elite 90.0 PFF grade at left tackle in 2019. He allowed only five pressures on the year while posting an 89.1 run-blocking grade.
25. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (VIA LAR): CB DERION KENDRICK, CLEMSON
Similar to his 2019 campaign, Kendrick closed out the 2020 season with an ugly performance. He surrendered 114 yards and three touchdowns in the 2019-20 National Championship game to Ja’Marr Chase and LSU before giving up 122 yards and two scores to Ohio State in the 2020-21 College Football Playoff semifinal.
Kendrick flashed his lockdown ability in the other games, though. Across 22 games over the past two years, he has allowed a lowly average of 14.5 yards per game. Considering he was a wide receiver in 2018, that’s impressive.
Owusu-Koramoah has been a game-changer for Notre Dame over the past couple of seasons, serving as the rover in the Fighting Irish defense. He has shined in every single facet of play, but especially so in coverage. In that role, Owusu-Koramoah predominantly manned the slot, from which he earned the third-highest coverage grade in the FBS. He allowed only five first downs across 200 slot coverage snaps with an interception, four forced incompletions and four passing stops in 2020.
Tampa faces some looming questions along the defensive line this offseason, and Barmore would also be a “best player available” situation. The Alabama product is fresh off a dominant outing against Notre Dame, recording a 92.2 PFF grade and a whopping seven pressures.
Keep in mind, the Fighting Irish boast the country's best offensive line. While we haven’t seen that kind of strong performance week in and week out from Barmore, he still has been the best pass-rushing interior defensive lineman this season. His 91.2 pass-rushing grade leads his position in the FBS.
Baltimore sees a lot of zone coverage thanks to Lamar Jackson's skill set, and Moore is a zone coverage beater. He exploited holes in zone looks like clockwork in Lane Kiffin’s offense at Ole Miss. In fact, no FBS receiver generated more explosive plays of 15-plus yards in 2020 via finding a hole in zone than Moore (12). Against such coverages in general, Moore racked up the second-most yards per route run in the Power Five (3.87).
He didn't see much single coverage as a primary slot receiver, but he looked drastically improved this season when he did. Moore won his downfield routes numerous times on those plays and ranked ninth in the FBS in receiving grade against single coverage for the year.
Collins did unprecedented things at the linebacker position this season for Tulsa. His 93.7 coverage grade sits well above the previous PFF record set by former UCLA Bruin and current Minnesota Viking Eric Kendricks in 2014 (92.1).
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound off-ball linebacker tallied four interceptions, three forced incompletions and nine passing stops when dropping into coverage. He was also one of the top blitzing weapons in the country. All told, Collins picked up 16 pressures on 51 rushes and was the only player at his position to record 90.0-plus grades in coverage and as a blitzer.
30. BUFFALO BILLS: IOL ALIJAH VERA-TUCKER, USC
One of the Bills' few flaws has been guard play, and Vera-Tucker would surely help with that. The USC lineman started at left guard in 2019 and was among the best in the country in pass protection, posting an 87.9 pass-blocking grade after allowing just seven pressures on 590 pass-blocking snaps.
He kicked over to tackle for 2020 and held his own for the first five games before Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux — who you’ll hear a lot about in 2022 —handled him in the Pac-12 Championship game with six quarterback pressures.
Despite that, Vera-Tucker still finished the season with an 84.2 pass-blocking grade and a mere eight pressures allowed.
Aaron Rodgers gets the WR2 he has needed for quite some time. The Packers already have arguably the NFL's best route-runner, Davante Adams, and they add one of the best at it in all of college football here. Olave has gotten open at the sixth-highest rate in the country in 2020.
Among all Power Five wide receivers this season against single coverage, Olave ranks sixth in receiving grade and first in passer rating when targeted — a near-perfect 157.5 mark with 13 receptions on 17 such targets for 242 yards and five touchdowns.
32. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: EDGE JAYSON OWEH, PENN STATE
People of Oweh’s size (6-foot-5, 252 pounds) aren’t supposed to move the way he does. He has reportedly run in the 4.3s and has an incredible get-off. Oweh looked like the elite pass-rusher we were expecting this season in Penn State’s first game of the season, racking up 10 pressures, but he didn't come close to matching that kind of production the rest of the way.
He ended with just 10 total pressures in his six games after facing Indiana. However, Oweh did improve drastically against the run. He improved his 59.5 run-defense grade in 2019 to 89.8 in 2020. Like PFF lead draft analyst Mike Renner has said on numerous occasions, Oweh is just scratching the surface of what he can become.