Welcome to my first ever mock draft, hopefully the first of many as we get closer and closer to the 2021 NFL Draft.
This mock is part my favorite players, part scenarios where I can see players going based on team needs and part essay about this draft class. Enjoy!
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
From a physical tools perspective, Lawrence really is one of the best quarterbacks we’ve seen at the position for a while. His arm talent is tremendous, and at times, Clemson has built the offense around his ability to make throws that most college quarterbacks can’t make. His release is also lightning fast.
Justin Fields and Lawrence have a similar ball path in their throwing mechanics — there’s a little bit of a distal movement down and away when they start their release — but Lawrence’s speed in that same movement is so otherworldly fast that it makes up for it in spades. The speed of his release is head and shoulders above anything in college football, whether he's throwing from inside the pocket or making plays outside of it.
Lawrence is the total package from a physical standpoint, but Clemson didn't often task him with NFL-type concepts — they just don't run routes into the middle of the field. Now, Deshaun Watson played in a similar offense, and he’s figured it out in the NFL, but there’s no guarantee that Lawrence does.
Lawrence produced 90.0-plus grades every year in college but never finished as one of the country's five-highest-graded quarterbacks. And while he’s an elite player, the accuracy hasn’t been perfect, especially so in 2019, although he did bounce back and had a wonderful 2020 season.
If Lawrence comes to the NFL with his 2019 baggage — inaccuracies and only throwing one-on-one jump balls — there’s going to be a problem. I don’t foresee that. The 2020 player is probably closer to the guy who will step foot into the NFL ranks, but the 2019 version still lingers in my mind a lot.
2. New York Jets: QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
Physically, Fields checks all the boxes at 6-foot-3, 228 pounds; he can run away from people and was also one of the most accurate passers in college football last season.
Fields is a former five-star recruit who won a bunch of games as Ohio State's starter. And it seems as though evaluators can get hung up on the few negative games he’s had in his career — 2020 Indiana, 2020 Northwestern, 2019 Clemson, to name a few — in ways that they don’t get hung up talking about Trevor Lawrence. When Lawrence has had a bad game — 2019 Georgia Tech, 2020 Virginia, 2020 Ohio State — we pretend it didn’t happen. In fact, it seems like many have pretended the entire 2019 season didn’t happen for Lawrence.
With Fields, every time he pats the ball too long and takes a sack or accidentally makes a wrong read, we have another referendum on the young man. The kid has proven that he’s an elite quarterback while playing in an offense that I would argue is more difficult on the quarterback than Clemson’s.
3. Miami Dolphins (from Houston): WR Devonta Smith, Alabama
The Dolphins should absolutely kick the tires on a quarterback in this position, with BYU's Zach Wilson being a great selection here, but I don’t think they will actually do that. Instead, I think they will decide to surround Tua Tagovailoa with as much talent as they can to get the best out of him. That means taking a wide receiver.
My take on the top pass-catchers in this draft — Devonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Kyle Pitts and Ja’Marr Chase — is that they can all be considered the top option in the class and I won’t fight you on any of them. That means that whoever gets picked in the 10-15 range is probably the most valuable — if you trade down or just wait it out and get Jaylen Waddle at Pick 13 or so, that’s probably the best bet. That said, all four could go early, and it's almost certain that at least two will be off the board by Pick 10.
The Dolphins take the Heisman Trophy winner here because Tua makes a call and tells his GM to at least pick one of his friends and not some Florida or LSU enemy of the state.
Smith makes up for his slight frame by … well.. being really good. That’s a basic interpretation, sure, but he’s shown he can really do anything on the field. He generated 3.99 yards per route run over the past two years, which means he is probably from another planet.
4. Atlanta Falcons: LB Micah Parsons, Penn State
Parsons is a crazy athlete and an elite football player at off-ball linebacker. And yes, off-ball linebackers should not go in the top 10, but someone will see this man test at the scouting combine and fall absolutely in love.
You can gauge how freaky an athlete he is by how often he “backdoors” zone runs and makes plays. He has everything you want in a linebacker with the coverage skills to match his run defense, and it would be more than amusing if it were the Falcons, with a new head coach and general manager, who get tunnel-visioned on that athleticism in lieu of a more valuable position.
The Falcons could use him, and obviously their defense was putrid last season, but this is too high for an off-ball linebacker. Let’s hope it happens!
5. Cincinnati Bengals: T Penei Sewell, Oregon
It will be an absolute no-brainer if Sewell falls to them at Pick 5 because, as special as it would be to take a receiver like Ja’Marr Chase, the team and fanbase need a collective sigh of relief more than a new toy.
That sigh of relief comes in the form of Penei Sewell. The Oregon tackle is as smooth as they come; he never looks like he’s in a hurry and just swallows up anyone who dares come at him. He allowed only seven pressures in all of 2019.
The only knock on him is that sometimes the pass-rushers in the Pac-12 don’t look like they’ve ever played football before and often rushed right down the middle of Sewell only for him to eat them whole. The horrid state of the Pac-12 is on display whenever you put the Sewell tape on. Still, he can play, and that shouldn’t distract you from how good this guy is.
6. Philadelphia Eagles: WR Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
You’d love for them to take a QB here, but that’s not going to happen. The next best thing is taking a receiver who can actually get open and catch passes, something the Eagles didn’t have last year. Chase is one of the more physical prospects in the draft and consistently destroyed press coverage and double-teams when defenses said, “Hey, you know what, one guy is not enough to cover No. 1.” He’s good.
7. Detroit Lions: DI Christian Barmore, Alabama
Ok, hear me out! New general manager Brad Holmes comes from the Rams, where he played a big role in drafting Aaron Donald. Christian Barmore is the first of a long line of future interior defensive linemen who have caught “Donald Fever” and try to mold their game after him.
Barmore is so nimble for a big man it’s incredible. He showed out on limited snaps in 2019, and while he probably didn’t play at his absolute best throughout the whole regular season, he was back to being his dominant self when the College Football Playoffs rolled around, earning a 91.3 pass-rush grade over the final two games of his championship-winning season. It’s not as if the Lions don’t need pass rush, either.
8. Carolina Panthers: QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
The Teddy Bridgewater experiment didn’t work out in Carolina, so in the most NFL way possible, the Panthers take the quarterback who reminds them the least of Teddy. That’s Trey Lance.
The FCS product is an explosive athlete who throws the ball deep but isn’t super accurate. Does that remind you in any way of Checkdown Teddy? No … and that’s the point. With the Panthers' sneaky good receiving corps, I think this could be a fun fit from Day 1. Zach Wilson would also fit in this spot too.
9. Denver Broncos: CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
The Broncos should absolutely take a quarterback with their first pick. They should even probably trade up to do it. However, something tells me they still believe in Drew Lock’s development. I’m not sure I do, but I also thought Justin Herbert wasn’t a good quarterback, so who am I to say, really?
If Denver decides that Lock is the guy, they could start upgrading their secondary with a guy like Caleb Farley or Patrick Surtain. I picked Surtain here because the Broncos defense loves to do a lot on defense, and not only have we seen Surtain play in so many different coverages at Alabama, but we've also seen him play them well.
10. Dallas Cowboys: CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
The Cowboys were brutal in the secondary last season and could take a safety here, but it will be tough to pass up on Farley's elite skills. He’ll fit in nicely in Dan Quinn’s Cover 3 scheme and will lock down receivers for years to come.
11. New York Giants: WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
Daniel Jones probably impressed the Giants brass just enough to keep his job another year, so they must protect him any way they can. They took a tackle last season, so NFL logic dictates that they can’t take another offensive lineman. This means Jaylen Waddle is coming to the Big Apple.
Stylistically, Waddle is my favorite receiver in the draft — the speed is shocking. It shouldn’t be legal to average 11.2 yards after the catch per reception, as Waddle did over the past two years at Alabama.
12. San Francisco 49ers: QB Zach Wilson, BYU
Well, well, well … if it isn’t the 49ers finding their quarterback of the future after Kyle Shanahan continued to speak in unbelievably vague terms about Jimmy Garoppolo.
The Niners could easily trade up for a quarterback, but they'd be ecstatic if Wilson falls to them. The BYU product played in the same wide-zone offense that Shanahan runs, so he would fit in. The question is whether his success in that offense in 2020 was due to how that offense operates. It’s one thing to become Jared Goff, Jimmy Garropolo, Kirk Cousins, Matt Schaub and the likes when you get to the NFL, but you better not have already been one of those guys in college.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: T Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
Like the Bengals earlier, the Chargers need to protect their prized asset. And although it's seemingly impossible that Slater falls to them — because nothing good ever happens to the Chargers — they would snap him up in a second if he were still on the board.
My favorite thing about Slater is how strong his left arm/hand is — he gets that paw on you and it’s over; you might as well get a drink of water since the rep is done. Slater had to play against much better competition than Sewell, and you can very much expect elaborate breakdowns of his handful of reps against Chase Young in 2019.
14. Minnesota Vikings: EDGE Gregory Rousseau, Miami
In real life, if Christian Barmore is here, they’d love to have that presence in the middle of their defense as a pass-rusher. But he’s already gone in my world, so they find another pass-rusher.
Rousseau did play a lot as a 3-tech in 2019, but he does seem suited for the outside in the NFL. He is as raw as anything but has the athleticism that is uncoachable, as they say. Both Quincy Roche and Jaelan Phillips played better for Miami in 2020 than Rousseau did in 2019, but athletes rule in the NFL.
15. New England Patriots: QB Mac Jones, Alabama
I’m about to make a lot of the same mistakes I’ve made in the past, but here we go again overrating a non-athletic quarterback.
I’m going to continue to stan for quarterbacks who don’t have the physical capabilities to throw the ball 100 yards or escape tacklers in the pocket and take off because having to play quarterback from the pocket is really hard. Mac Jones made it look really easy this year. Sure, Steve Sarkisian deserves a lot of credit for the “gimmick” offense they ran, but Jones didn’t make any mistakes, threw the ball accurately and does have more zip on his throws than we want to realize.
Picking a quarterback here comes with the assumption that Cam Newton doesn’t return to New England, which looks like it could go either way right now. I don’t think the Patriots' woeful offensive performance was all Cam’s fault — I think that there's still a season or two of close-to-elite play left in Newton — but the Pats may just want to blow the whole thing and start young again.
16. Arizona Cardinals: TE Kyle Pitts, Florida
If Pitts falls this far, it will be tough for the Cards to pass on him. With Larry Fitzgerald at the end of his time in the league, finding a new playmaker from the inside would be huge for this team. Pitts earned the highest grade we've ever given to a college tight end over a single season (96.2), and he connected with Kyle Trask for a passer rating of 146.2 in 2020 while averaging 2.22 yards per route run from the slot.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: EDGE Kwity Paye, Michigan
Las Vegas could go in a few different directions, but in this scenario, someone with the kind of athleticism that Paye has is hard to pass up. He’s like Rousseau in the sense that he didn’t put it all together in college — although Paye figured it out to a much higher degree — but the burst and quickness can’t be taught, so he’s an automatic first-rounder.
18. Miami Dolphins: EDGE Jayson Oweh, Penn State
We’ve talked about how Bill Belichick and the defensive guys who have come off his tree try their best to generate pass rush using stunts and blitzes to get workmanlike players home to the quarterback. Well, it’s still always better to have really good edge rushers. Oweh is still developing, and he’s an intriguing player at this point in the draft. He’s going to keep developing his pass-rush skills, but at least you know from the jump that he can play well against the run.
19. Washington Football Team: T Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
This is such a tough position to be in because all the interesting quarterbacks will be taken at this point. So, either you take Kyle Trask — more on that later — or you just roll with Taylor Heinicke, see if he really is the future and take a player to help him along the way.
Darrisaw was the ACC’s best tackle in 2020 because he figured out how to stop people from getting to his quarterbacks. His 4.3% pressure rate in 2019 was cut in half to 2.1% this past season.
Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Chris Olave (2) heads upfield after a catch against Clemson Tigers safety Lannden Zanders (36) in the second quarter during the College Football Playoff semifinal. Credit: Imagn
20. Chicago Bears: WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
If that does happen, Olave would be a good fit to fill the very large shoes that Robinson would leave behind. Suddenly the Bears would be a young but explosive at receiver, with Olave and Darnell Mooney ready for Sam Howell to take the reins in 2022.
21. Indianapolis Colts: T Brady Christensen, BYU
We’re living in a world where Philip Rivers gives it one more go before retiring, so with the retirement of longtime tackle Anthony Castonzo, a tackle replacement is in order. Christensen was a monster this past season, allowing only four pressures the whole season while mauling in the run game. I believe someone will fall in love with this kid and take him a bit early, especially with there being a bit of a gap between the top two tackles and the rest.
22. Tennessee Titans: CB Jaycee Horn, South Carolina
The Titans were miserable on defense this season, so there is no doubt they go after someone on that side of the ball. It could be a safety like Trevon Moehrig from TCU, but I went with Horn from South Carolina because of his NFL lineage and feistiness.
Malcolm Butler has not been a positive investment for Tennessee, and Adoree' Jackson hasn’t been right either, so taking a cornerback is a big move. Horn was hard to throw against this past season, allowing only eight completions on the 30 passes thrown his way.
23. New York Jets (from Seattle): WR Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
Now that they have their quarterback, the Jets are going to need to find a receiver so we don’t have to live through another “Chris Herndon is the best player you’ve never heard of” offseason.
Bateman will have to figure out how to run more than the slant routes off RPOs when he gets into Mini LaFleur’s offense, but he’s kind of a bully, and I like him a lot. He’s not the “fake bully” like Hakeem Butler; he is a real bully who fights for the ball and all the yards after the catch he can get.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: QB Kyle Trask, Florida
The Steelers absolutely need a change at quarterback if Ben Roethlisberger is going to play as he did in 2020. Maybe Big Ben just spent a season warming his arm up and getting it loose for 2021, but it didn’t look like he actually wanted to play quarterback this past season.
Mason Rudolph is almost certainly not the answer, so either they take a guy this year or wait until next year, and as their regression to midtable team continues, take a QB high in the 2022 draft. They could go with Trask here, who is already a 38-year-old Ben Roethlisberger, or they could even take a Jamie Newman, who can actually throw the ball with some power.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (from L.A. Rams): WR Kadarius Toney, Florida
The production might not have been elite in his early years, as Toney was more gadget-sometimes player rather than game-breaking all-everything player, but he broke out in a massive way in 2020. Lining up mostly in the slot — although he has made appearances out wide and in the backfield — he is a YAC machine, as 477 of his 977 yards came after the catch this past season. His 19 carries in 2020 went for 161 yards, with 122 of those coming after contact. He can make people miss, and he can run through people.
26. Cleveland Browns: S Trevon Moehrig, TCU
Andrew Sendejo and Karl Joseph are probably not the answer at safety for the Browns, so picking a playmaker in Moehrig would be huge for them. With the way defense is going to be played in the NFL going forward, having a versatile player who can line up in the slot and then play a deeper role is critical. Moehrig only allowed six first downs across 30 targets when playing in the slot but can also play deep in the half-field and centerfield.
27. Baltimore Ravens: G Wyatt Davis, Ohio State
The Ravens can’t draft a new offensive coordinator, so they go with Davis here. It’s not a “sexy” pick, but they need any help they can get on the interior of their offensive line. Davis wasn’t the same player we had seen in 2019 when he was a tremendous run-blocker, but just looking at that tape, you can see how desperate the Ravens will be to find a tough player like him in their run-first scheme.
28. New Orleans Saints: LB Nick Bolton, Missouri
The Saints will need a quarterback going forward because it’s hard to look at Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston and be too excited about the future at that position. Still, you can easily see them try to find some defensive talent here. The team clearly doesn’t value Alex Anzalone, given their acquisition of Kwon Alexander, and Alexander may not ever get back up to speed after suffering an Achilles injury. So, Bolton is the pick here. The nice thing is that Demario Davis can play either Mike or Will, so wherever Bolton fits in, Davis can just slide over.
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: EDGE Azeez Ojulari, Georgia
We are in the early stages of the Ojulari revolution in the NFL, with Azeez and his brother B.J. both getting into the league within a few seasons. Azeez is an all-around talent at edge with phenomenal pass-rush skills, and he is also a dog against the run. Teams will fall in love with his willingness to do the dirty work in the run game to complement the pass-rush ability.
30. Buffalo Bills: EDGE Carlos Basham Jr., Wake Forest
We’re going to assume that Ed Oliver just had a down year and that he’ll bounce back and be a dominant force in years to come, so we don’t need to take an interior defender here. Meanwhile, Jerry Hughes was their best pass-rusher this past season, but he’ll be 33 when the next season starts, so getting some fresh legs at edge would be nice. Basham had a slightly down year by his standards in 2020 but was a wrecking ball in 2019 with 62 total pressures and double-digit sacks.
31. Green Bay Packers: WR Rondale Moore, Purdue
This would be a dream pick, as it seems like the Packers have desperately tried to find the Randall Cobb replacement for years without any success. Moore is a dangerous player who can win one on one and then take the ball to the house from anywhere on the field. He notched 901 yards after the catch and forced 37 missed tackles on 115 catches back in 2018 — incredible numbers.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: EDGE Jaelan Phillips, Miami
I like the idea that the Chiefs can just take chances at any position because of how set up they are to withstand almost any future issue so long as Patrick Mahomes is at quarterback. They would be taking a chance here with Phillips, who retired from football before making a comeback with Miami in 2020. He was awesome last year, as the former five-star recruit produced 44 pressures across only 286 pass-rush snaps.