Quarterbacks should dominate the top of April's draft, and that's reflected in my latest 2021 NFL Mock Draft. I played GM for all 32 picks and mocked what I think teams should do — not will do — in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
This is a no-brainer decision for the Jags. PFF's lead draft analyst, Mike Renner, wrote recently that Lawrence “is truly the type of prospect who comes around only once in a generation.” Jacksonville can sprint the card in with confidence.
2. New York Jets: QB Zach Wilson, BYU
Renner also recently compared BYU signal-caller Zach Wilson and Ohio State’s Justin Fields in an article for PFF.com, in which he said:
“The only way I’d go Fields over Wilson is if I had an offensive coordinator who needed a rushing threat at the quarterback position. Otherwise, Fields' issues with holding onto the ball combined with Wilson’s elite off-platform ability and arm talent ultimately gives the BYU quarterback the nod.”
PFF’s Seth Galina also praised Wilson in his article comparing the former Cougars quarterback to another significant pre-draft riser in Joe Burrow, calling out Wilson’s notable arm talent as a key separator between the two prospects. And no quarterback in college football has a higher grade than Wilson in 2020.
While some Jets fans are encouraged by what Sam Darnold has shown in flashes throughout his three-year NFL career, the former USC standout simply hasn’t shown enough to warrant passing on a talent like Wilson at No. 2 overall.
3. Philadelphia Eagles (via Dolphins): QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
With Carson Wentz likely on his way out of Philadelphia, the Eagles need to get aggressive at upgrading at the quarterback position in April's draft. Rookie Jalen Hurts showed flashes of competence as the team’s starter, but he still finished the last four weeks of the season as one of the lowest-graded quarterbacks.
Fields has his own fair share of concerns as a prospect, but he’s still the No. 3 overall player on PFF’s board and the first-ranked college quarterback in terms of PFF passing grade over the past two seasons (2019-20).
4. Atlanta Falcons: QB Trey Lance, NDSU
No non-quarterback picked at No. 4 overall in 2021 will take Falcons from a four-win team to a Super Bowl contender with a 36-year-old Matt Ryan under center and on the books for more than $80M in 2021 and 2022 combined. I’m sorry. So, even if the Falcons’ front office is still confident in going the distance with Ryan, adding an heir apparent at the quarterback position with the — ideally — rare opportunity they have drafting inside the top five should be an easy decision.
PFF’s 10th-ranked signal-caller in terms of passing grade in 2020, Ryan offers trade value if Atlanta’s brass can find a suitor or can continue to start ahead of a rookie quarterback with what should at least be an improved coaching situation and two top-flight wide receivers (Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley).
Lance is a toolsy prospect with a lot of the measurables (size, athleticism, arm strength) talent evaluators look to target and develop at the quarterback position. He's also a developmental piece Atlanta can feel confident in sitting behind Ryan for an extended duration before starting under center in the NFL.
The Bengals get their dream scenario in this mock draft. While reuniting quarterback Joe Burrow with his former LSU teammate Ja'Marr Chase is the sexier option at No. 5, team need and best player available match up too perfectly here with Sewell still on the board. The former Oregon Duck is a generational offensive tackle prospect who earned PFF grades in 2019 that we’ve never seen from an underclassman in the PFF College era (2014-20).
6. Miami Dolphins (via Eagles): WR Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
If Miami doesn't want to get uber-aggressive at upgrading the quarterback position with their No. 3 pick, trading back to acquire more high-end talent in future drafts and still land a star wideout like Chase puts them on the fast track to surrounding Tagovailoa with enough talent to succeed. The former LSU wideout is currently PFF’s No. 1 wide receiver and No. 5 overall player in the 2021 class. He also earned the third-ranked PFF receiving grade (91.3) in college football at just 19 years of age as a true sophomore in 2019.
The former Penn State off-ball linebacker is currently PFF’s sixth-ranked prospect on the 2021 NFL Draft board. Parsons also finished the 2019 season as the highest-graded off-ball linebacker (91.6). He also possesses role versatility that Dan Campbell and the Lions should covet in that he can play off-ball alignments on early downs and rush off the edge or blitz on passing downs. Parsons is one of the better pass-rushing off-ball linebacker prospects we've seen over the past few drafts.
Drafting a tight end early in the first round isn’t great from a positional value perspective, but Pitts doesn’t just play tight end. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound Florida Gator currently owns one of the highest PFF grades in the country regardless of position (96.2) while playing 261 offensive snaps at inline tight end, 79 at slot receiver and 69 at wide receiver. If Carolina doesn't make a play for an upgrade over Teddy Bridgewater, surrounding him (or a veteran they acquire in free agency or via trade) with more talent alongside Robby Anderson and DJ Moore should help give Joe Brady and the offense enough to lead a more competitive Panthers team in 2021.
9. Denver Broncos: Edge Kwity Paye, Michigan
Paye is a rare athlete that won’t last deep into the first round if he does test as well as expected at the 2021 NFL Scouting Combine. He also has the fourth-best PFF pass-rush win rate (26%) of any Power 5 edge defender in the country. Denver faces some levels of uncertainty at edge defender, with Von Miller (31) coming off a severe ankle injury and currently under criminal investigation.
Currently PFF’s top-ranked cornerback and No. 14 overall player in the 2021 class, Farley is a fluid athlete with all the tools necessary to dominate at outside cornerback in the NFL. Before opting out of the 2020 season and declaring for the draft, the 6-foot-2, 207-pound Farley earned a 90.5 PFF coverage grade that ranked third among Power 5 cornerbacks in 2019.
Waddle is arguably a better receiver prospect than Henry Ruggs III was coming out of Alabama in 2020. An explosive, dynamic athlete, Waddle ranks inside the top five in yards per route run (3.64) and yards after the catch per reception (11.5) over the past two seasons.
While the 49ers would be smart to send a package of picks and players to a team drafting inside the top-three to land an upgrade at quarterback, pulling off such a blockbuster trade and finding a proper suitor for Jimmy Garoppolo's services is easier said than done. If Kyle Shanahan & Co. do stay put at No. 12 and continue to work for a deep postseason run with Jimmy G. under center, they'll need to do everything they can to build an elite offense around him. Smith finished the year with the highest single-season receiving grade (94.9) in the PFF College era (2014-20) and currently ranks 8th overall on PFF’s 2021 NFL Draft Board.
A former three-star recruit, Slater earned 75.0 and 76.6 PFF grades playing right tackle for Northwestern as a true freshman and sophomore in 2017 and 2018, respectively. His PFF grade jumped up to 90.0 in his first season starting at left tackle for the Wildcats in 2019. He immediately fills a need for the Chargers along the offensive line regardless of whether he plays tackle or interior offensive line at the next level.
Darrisaw is one of the bigger college football breakouts in 2020. A former three-star recruit out of Maryland, Darrisaw has improved his grade from 68.6 starting at left tackle in 2018 up to 95.6 playing the same position in 2020. The 6-foot-5, 350-pounder earned himself some money this season, for sure.
Barmore's consistency at Alabama is reason to be concerned with him as a high-end prospect, but his performances in the Crimson Tide's bouts with Notre Dame and Ohio State in the College Football Playoff are some of the best we've seen from any defensive tackle in this class. Buying into the high end and continuing to develop Barmore (RS So.) at the next level is a worthwhile investment for the Pats at No. 15, especially knowing the lack of depth in the 2021 defensive tackle class.
Surtain is a big, instinctive outside cornerback prospect that should push Farley for CB1 in the 2021 class by the time April comes around. Surtain leads all college cornerbacks with at least 400 defensive snaps played in PFF grade (87.0) in 2020.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: Edge Jayson Oweh, Penn State
Despite significant investment (Clelin Ferrell, Arden Key, Maxx Crosby, Maurice Hurst) in the defensive line in recent years, the Raiders' pass-rush is still a bottom-five unit in the league and has been since the Khalil Mack trade. And the need to improve in that area is magnified now that they've hired Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator, given that he blitzes at one of the lowest rates in the league.
One of several developmental edge prospects in this class, Oweh is athletic and bendy for the position but lacks high-end collegiate production. He earned just an 81.8 PFF pass-rushing grade in 2019 and an 80.3 PFF pass-rushing grade in 2020. However, he is a project worth investing in the back end of the first round for a Titans team in desperate need of some juice along the edge.
18. Miami Dolphins: Edge Gregory Rousseau, Miami (Fla.)
Rousseau is far from a polished prospect, but the former Miami (Fla.) defender is a high-end athlete with ridiculous size and length for the position (6-foot-6, 260 pounds). He earned a 76.2 PFF grade playing up and down the line of scrimmage for the Hurricanes in 2019 and can immediately step in as a chess piece in Flores' defense while he develops his pass-rushing skill set.
Horn's combination of athleticism and physicality is rare for the cornerback position. He allowed just eight catches from 24 targets for 116 yards in the seven games he played in 2020.
Jenkins improved his PFF grade in each of his past three seasons at Oklahoma State, working all the way up to 92.0 in 2020. He is a road grader in the run game and a brick wall against bull-rush types in pass protection. Turn on his tape against Texas' Joseph Ossai, and you'll quickly understand the hype.
Moore is largely a projection at the next level considering how few snaps we saw him fully healthy at Purdue, but his record-breaking 2018 season and jaw-dropping speed, strength and athleticism combination is enough to feel confident in him as a first-round pick.
22. Tennessee Titans: Edge Azeez Ojulari, Georgia
Ojulari is the best pure speed rusher in the 2021 class and should pick up wins along the outside edge early in his NFL career. The former Georgia standout has freaky explosiveness and the bend to turn the corner and finish at the quarterback. He earned a 91.7 pass-rushing grade that ranked second among all FBS edge defenders in 2020.
Bateman isn't a freak athlete with high-end top speed, but he's still one of the best pure separators in this class because of his ability to get off the line of scrimmage and win with his efficient route-running. The former Minnesota standout led the country in yards per route from an outside alignment as a sophomore in 2019.
Jaelan Phillips was regarded as the No. 1 overall recruit by the 247Sports Composite coming out of Redlands East Valley High School. Phillips combined for 218 tackles and 30.5 sacks and two interceptions in his junior and senior season. The five-star defensive end received 20 offers, according to 247Sports, before selecting the in-state UCLA Bruins over the likes of Alabama and others.
However, Phillips suffered three severe concussions early in his UCLA career that led to him retiring from football ahead of the 2019 season. He eventually returned to the game to play for Miami (Fla.) in 2020 and turned in one of the better seasons of any pass-rusher in the country. The concussion concerns will drive all of the conversation surrounding Phillips, but there's no arguing he's one of the most purely talented defensive prospects in the class.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Rams): S Trevon Moehrig, TCU
The Jaguars need to continue to invest draft capital in the secondary. Sidney Jones is the only Jacksonville defender with 100-plus snaps at outside cornerback and a PFF grade above 61.0. Rookie C.J. Henderson should continue to get better with experience as long as he can get healthy, but the rest of the depth chart is a bit of a mess.
Moehrig (6-foot-2, 202 pounds) is the best free safety prospect in the 2021 class and should be coveted for his physical tools and ball production come April's draft.
An elite athlete with some of the best pure explosiveness in the class, Owusu-Koromoah can quickly become one of the league's best coverage linebackers if he continues to develop at the position. He excelled in coverage while playing a bulk majority of his snaps split between the box and slot cornerback positions.
27. Baltimore Ravens: IOL Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
Vera-Tucker is one of the highest-graded offensive tackles in the country but best projects as an interior offensive lineman at the next level. The USC standout can fill a need at either guard position for Baltimore right away and provide depth at multiple positions as a swing piece for an offensive line that suffered from injuries in 2020.
28. New Orleans Saints: QB Mac Jones, Alabama
PFF's own Seth Galina wrote a detailed piece comparing Jones to former ‘Bama signal-caller Tua Tagovailoa and claimed Jones should be considered as good a prospect as Tua coming out — if not better.
Jones' and Tagovailoa's very deep passing stats were identical. On throws that traveled over 30 yards in their career both had a 60% adjusted completion rate and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 15 to 1. Tua’s NFL passer rating on these throws was 130.8, while Jones’ was 131.9. That’s eerie. Deep passing might not be the best proxy for arm strength, but you can see on the film that both pass the NFL-level arm strength threshold.
Jones’ throws look like they are coming out faster than Tua’s on tape, but I think it's an optical illusion because Jones’ quick release confuses our brains. Tua had more of a laborious release, so it looks like the ball is moving slower. Both can get balls out under pressure, as well. You can find clips of Jones falling backward and still getting some zip on his throws like Tua.
Tua’s errors were mostly him not seeing zone defenders. In fact, of his 14 turnover-worthy throws in 2018 and 2019, every single one was of this variety. This could be either a deep safety making a play baiting him into a throw or him not seeing an underneath linebacker. You would call these read errors — not seeing the field or understanding the coverage and sometimes having bad timing. Tua has made some of those same mistakes in his little time playing for the Dolphins, as well, so it’s still a slight concern. He’s also added accuracy mistakes, which doesn't make for a good combo.
For Jones, we see much less of this. I charted only three of his 13 turnover-worthy throws as being in this bucket. Jones’ problem was in the accuracy department. He made smart reads but then was undone by his own ball placement. He either threw over his intended receiver to a safety who had no business being in the play or just threw behind a receiver in tight man coverage for the cornerback to get his hands on the ball.
Jones at No. 28 can come in and compete with Taysom Hill and/or Jameis Winston for the starting job in New Orleans once veteran Drew Brees officially announces his expected retirement from the NFL.
Toney makes up for what he lacks in ball skills and route-running polish with freakish athleticism, explosiveness and YAC ability that is truly in a league of his own in the 2021 class. He broke more than 30 tackles over the past two seasons and earned 80.0-plus PFF grades in each of the past three years.
What Samuel lacks in size, he makes up for in athleticism and positional versatility. He’s an instinctive player who doesn’t shy away from contact if positioned in the slot or the box, and his movement skills give him an advantage over a lot of outside receivers when lined up at cornerback. He likely projects as a slot cornerback or safety at the next level at just 5-foot-10, 184 pounds, but he’s earned the best PFF coverage grade (82.8) of his career playing outside cornerback for FSU this season.
Radunz is a big riser up draft boards coming off his stellar performance at the 2021 Reese's Senior Bowl. He also earned 79.1 and 87.2 pass-blocking grades in his 2018 and 2019 seasons, respectively.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: OT Sam Cosmi, Texas
While Donovan Smith did turn in the highest single-season PFF grade of his career in 2020 (72.8), he could be a cap casualty considering that Tampa will likely get aggressive with re-signing Lavonte David, Chris Godwin and/or Shaq Barrett this offseason. Releasing Smith would save the Bucs more than $14M in cap space. But even if Smith is retained for the final year of his contract, the Bucs will likely lose a lot of their depth along the offensive line to free agency (Joel Haeg, AQ Shipley, Josh Wells) and would be smart to continue to invest in the position.
One of the better athletes at his position, the 6-foot-7, 309-pound Cosmi has earned 82.0-plus PFF pass-blocking grades in all three of his years at Texas. He also earned a 90.5 PFF grade in 2020.
Courtesy of PFF’s 2021 NFL Draft Guide, find PFF's top draft prospect, biggest riser and wild card to watch at each position here: