Opt-outs due to COVID-19 have barred us from viewing some of the top prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft, but that will not stop us from taking a look ahead and trying to predict what will happen come April.
While it’s still only Week 4, and we still have yet to enjoy our first taste of Big Ten or PAC 12 prospects, some fanbases do not have much else to look forward to besides the draft at this point. This is how I see the draft playing out next spring and is not necessarily what I would do.
The following draft order is based on the current Vegas Super Bowl odds:
There is no chance any GM in their right mind would pass or trade out of this selection. I don’t care how great they believe Sam Darnold to be; if they end up with the worst record in the NFL, they have to take Lawrence. As well as he’s played his first two seasons at Clemson, it’s scary to think Lawrence is still getting better. He’s got an absurd 95.7 passing grade through two games this season, best in the nation.
This is where the debate gets interesting. The quarterback options here, while certainly franchise worthy, aren’t to the level of Lawrence. Outside of QBs, however, Sewell is on par with Lawrence in terms of the skill and physical ability he brings to his position.
He won't be playing another down of college football as he chose to opt-out ahead of the 2020 college season, but he does not have to in order to be the first non-quarterback taken in the 2021 NFL Draft. Last season, Sewell earned the highest grade we’ve ever given to an offensive tackle, at 95.8 overall. What makes this even more impressive is that he was only 18 years old at the beginning of his 2019 campaign.
There hasn’t been a single encouraging thing about Dwayne Haskins' performance for the Football Team this season, as he’s the lowest-graded quarterback in the NFL. Fields vastly out-graded Haskins in the same offense last year and has modern run-threat mobility to boot. If they end up with the No. 3 pick, Washington has to pull the trigger on their next quarterback of the future.
There’s a number of different elite talents on the board at positions of need here, but the Joe Burrow-to-Chase connection may be too great to pass up, especially with A.J. Green seemingly losing a step and John Ross falling out of favor in the Bengals offense. We obviously won’t be seeing Chase this season after he opted out, but after he won the Biletnikoff Award as a sophomore, we don’t particularly need to.
The Panthers could use talent at pretty much any level of their defense, and you won’t find a more talented linebacker than Parsons. He’s as complete a linebacker prospect as we’ve ever graded at the college level.
You’d feel a lot better about Rousseau in the top 10 if he had built upon his strong sophomore campaign. That’s not going to happen, though, as Rousseau has already opted out. While uber productive with 16 sacks as a redshirt freshman, the worry is that he’ll be a Jadeveon Clowney-esque defensive lineman who struggles to win as a true edge rusher. Clowney is actually at his best rushing inside, and so was Rousseau. He recorded an 85.1 pass-rushing grade on 76 pass-rush snaps from the interior compared to a 71.3 on 186 pass-rush snaps outside the tackles.
Realistically, Lance is unlikely to fall to No. 7. But if the Jags are stuck here, the chances are they’re trying to move up for him or Fields. Lance is as elite physically as any quarterback in recent memory. It's hard to glean much from the tape he's put out against FCS competition, though. He’ll get his one showcase game this weekend against Central Arkansas, but I don’t think it will really matter much — he’s going to be drafted highly no matter what.
His first game against Missouri was business as usual, as he allowed just one catch on three targets for 13 yards. Surtain’s length and instincts are tailor-made to play in Vic Fangio’s defensive scheme. Cornerback will also be a need if they balk at A.J. Bouye’s $13.5 million price tag next year.
The Falcons love athletes on the defensive side of the ball, and they need all the help they can get there. Pairing Moses with Deion Jones would give Atlanta the most athletic linebacker corps in the NFL. Moses looked all the way back from the ACL injury that cost him his 2019 season in a three-stop performance Saturday.
10. MIAMI DOLPHINS (FROM HOUSTON TEXANS) — T SAMUEL COSMI, TEXAS
Miami can’t throw Tua Tagovailoa behind the current offensive line after how catastrophic his injury was in 2019 — that is a recipe for disaster for both parties. Cosmi is the most battle-tested tackle in this draft class, with over 1,200 pass-blocking snaps between left and right tackle in his career.
Pitts showed last Saturday why he's well worth being taken this early. He hauled in eight passes for 170 yards, including four scores, against Ole Miss. He is too athletic for any linebacker and far too physical for any corner to line up against. He's won matchups from inline and out wide over the course of his career. With Hunter Henry franchise tagged, there is no guarantee he will return. Even if he does, they have different enough skill sets to have both see the field at the same time and provide elite targets for Justin Herbert.
He’s still only played 269 snaps in his career after missing Alabama’s season opener with a minor knee injury, but the talent is evident. Barmore can play any alignment on the interior and still be a disruptor — something the Vikings desperately need. He earned an 83.0 run-defense grade and 88.1 pass-rushing grade in limited snaps last season.
If Waddle plays like he did Saturday on a consistent basis, he may not even make it to Pick 13. Waddle hauled in 8-of-10 targets for 132 yards and two scores. He’s the most explosive wide receiver in college football, and pairing him with Kenny Golladay would cause major headaches for opposing defenses.
The Eagles have struggled at cornerback over the past five years, posting sub-60 team coverage grades from the position every year except for 2017. Farley has an elite combination of size (6-foot-2, 207 pounds) and speed with a reported sub-4.4 40-yard dash. He also only allowed 18 catches on 50 targets all last season. You don’t need me to tell you how he could help the Eagles.
If the Raiders miss the playoffs for the third straight season under head coach Jon Gruden, you can bet all options will be on the table at the quarterback position. Trask seems like just the type of pocket passer Gruden craves, and if he plays as he did in Week 1 for the rest of the season, the Raiders will have to trade up for him. He had four big-time throws in a superb 416-yard passing day against Ole Miss.
Paye topped my list of prospects that needed football this fall. While we have yet to see him on the field this season, it’s nice to know we will. He is incredibly explosive and agile for a 272-pound defensive end but has shown almost no pass-rush moves at this point in his career. With Porter Gustin currently as the Browns' best edge option across from Myles Garrett, they could use all the help they can get.
[Editors Note: PFF's customizable NFL Mock Draft Simulator gives you the opportunity to be the GM of any team, and it is now updated with a select group of 2021 prospects]
Moehrig looks like the most complete safety this class has to offer. His physicality should fit in nicely next to Eddie Jackson’s playmaking ability in the backend of the secondary. Moehrig also already hails from a split-field-safety-heavy TCU defense that will translate well to what the Bears often run.
To no one’s surprise, Dre Kirkpatrick hasn’t exactly been the answer for the Cardinals at outside corner, as he's earned just a 34.6 coverage grade thus far. If Campbell can stay healthy this season, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound corner could be the answer. In his first game against Arkansas, he made a tackle for loss and had a pass breakup on his two targets.
With Corey Davis’ fifth-year option declined, it’s unclear what the plan is across from A.J. Brown going forward for Tennessee. Smith’s route-running and ball skills are first-round worthy — he has dropped only six of 131 catchable targets in his career.
Surrounding Lance with as many weapons as possible would not hurt. Freiermuth is the type of tight end, at 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, who never has to come off the field and will be a young quarterback’s best friend with his large catch radius.
Despite going on a second-round spending spree at the edge position in recent years, the Colts have only received middling returns. Basham could change that with his blend of size and explosiveness. The 6-foot-5, 285-pound pass-rusher has racked up 112 pressures over the past two seasons.
He’s a limited athlete and not much of an “upside” play, but the Cowboys defensive line needs guys ready to contribute right away. Wilson earned grades over 90.0 in both 2018 and 2019.
It’s not a flashy position or a big name, which means it’s quintessential Patriots. They’re throwing out career backup Jermaine Eluemunor at right tackle after Marcus Cannon opted out, and the Patriots have never been one to treat their offensive line as an afterthought. Leatherwood is the type of consistently solid, if unspectacular, lineman that the Pats covet.
The Bills have one of the most complete rosters in the NFL, but quite easily their weakest link this season has been slot corner Taron Johnson, who’s allowed 18 catches from 22 targets for 184 yards. Wade finally gets his shot to play outside after manning the slot for the Buckeyes the past two seasons, meaning the Bills will be able to take advantage of that versatility.
The rest of the NFL should be horrified if they let Kyle Shanahan get hold of Etienne. The 49ers' rushing attack creates more space for their rushers than any other team, and I don’t have to tell you how deadly the Clemson back is in space. He broke the PFF record last year for broken tackles per attempt and already has eight broken tackles on 25 attempts this season.
With Shaq Barrett on the franchise tag and Jason Pierre-Paul creeping into his mid-30s, edge is the most realistic need for the Bucs heading into next spring. Oweh needs to take a big step forward to justify this pick, however, as the athletic freak only saw 332 snaps last year in a backup role.
Bolton is pretty much a younger, more athletic version of Vince Williams. He lays the wood when he’s coming downhill but can also make plays in coverage. He tallied 10 combined picks and pass breakups last season with the Tigers.
No one loves offensive gadgets more than Sean Payton, and there’s no better gadget in this draft class than Moore. He led the nation in broken tackles as a true Freshman back in 2018, with 37. He may not make it this far in the draft if he comes back from his 2019 injury and proves he can beat defenders on the outside.
The Packers often only employ one linebacker, which means he’s got to be able to cover a good deal of ground in the run game. That’s Owusu-Koramoah’s specialty. The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder flies around the field with reckless abandon and has looked like a different player over the second half of last season and into 2020.
30. NEW YORK JETS (FROM SEATTLE SEAHAWKS) — IOL WYATT DAVIS, OHIO STATE
The Jets can’t throw Trevor Lawrence to the wolves the way they did with Sam Darnold. Having Mekhi Becton at left tackle and having Davis move to left guard would keep Lawrence from worrying about his blindside for the entirety of his rookie contract. Davis looked like the better of the two Ohio State guards last season after not allowing a single sack or hit, and the other guard was Jonah Jackson, who's currently the NFL's highest-graded rookie guard in pass protection.
The Ravens love stocking up on versatile coverage players. After playing safety as a freshman and slot corner as a sophomore, Holland qualifies as that. His 20 combined interceptions and pass breakups are the second-most of any returning safety in college football.
It’s only been one week, but Surratt already looked far more comfortable against Syracuse than what we saw last year. He is a weapon as a blitzer and got home for two sacks, a hit and a hurry in his lone game this season after collecting 30 pressures in his first year at linebacker in 2019.