The 2021 NFL Draft is mere weeks away, and as all the teams finalize their strategies and top prospects to target, it’s worth debating where the best players will go.
Some of the key decisions at the top of the draft have already been made. Announcing those moves on draft night will be a mere formality. However, there’s still plenty of mystery to unravel beyond the obvious, no-brainer first-round picks.
Let’s dive into our latest 2021 NFL mock draft, reflecting the first wave of NFL free agency and the two blockbuster trades that sent shockwaves through the 2021 NFL Draft. As you’ll see, scoring points is the priority among the teams picking early.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Get ready, Jacksonville Jaguars fans. You’ll be celebrating a lot of wins in short order if Trevor Lawrence is who everyone thinks he is. Heck, Urban Meyer finally made the jump to the NFL when it became guaranteed he’d be able to coach up Lawrence, who’s perhaps the most hyped quarterback prospect ever. Lawrence is that dude, and if Jacksonville plays its cards right and makes the most of this draft, don’t be surprised if the Jags are a frisky contender in the AFC South in 2021. – Matt Fitzgerald
2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
The Sam Darnold trade finally happened and the New York Jets can now focus on their future. It was going to be Zach Wilson at No. 2 overall all along. The combination of athleticism, arm talent and the ability to make off-script throws are ridiculous. Expect struggles as a rookie, especially behind this offensive line. With that said, this is a high-upside pick that could finally help the Jets take flight. As for filling out the team around him, our Jets’ seven-round mock does it. – Matt Johnson
3. San Francisco 49ers: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
It’s a pick I wouldn’t personally make, but just about any competent quarterback can succeed in Kyle Shanahan’s offense as long as he can grasp the system’s complexities. Mac Jones would make more sense for the San Francisco 49ers if they were looking for an instant starter. However, they seem intent on keeping Jimmy Garoppolo for another year, which is strange. Everyone would love to see Shanahan get a crack at Justin Fields, but alas. Jones is the pick here based on all the buzz. – Matt Fitzgerald
4. New England Patriots*: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
- 2021 NFL MOCK DRAFT TRADE: Atlanta Falcons trade 4th overall pick, 108th overall pick to New England Patriots for 15th overall, 46th overall, 2022 first- and third-round picks, 2023 third-round pick
Sometimes you need to make bold decisions. If the 49ers aren’t interested in a Jimmy Garoppolo trade, the New England Patriots should view that as a blessing in disguise. The Falcons want to trade down and this is a fantastic opportunity for Bill Belichick. There’s a great argument for Fields as the second-best player in the 2021 NFL Draft. Let him learn from Cam Newton for a year and then unleash him in this offense, that’s worth the cost of moving up. If Belichick doesn’t trade up, our Patriots’ mock draft still presents an intriguing outcome. – Matt Johnson
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
I can’t help reuniting Ja’Marr Chase with Joe Burrow. They were so dynamic in leading LSU to a national championship. After I hatched a master plan for the Cincinnati Bengals to revolutionize the NFL Draft — they’re not responding to my DMs — I sought out various pro player comparisons. Here’s a few for Chase, and I’m paraphrasing: A better Amari Cooper. Anquan Boldin, but with speed. On par with Julio Jones and A.J. Green. If I were Cincinnati, I’d trade tons of future picks to take Kyle Pitts at No. 6, too. Shrug emoji. — Matt Fitzgerald
6. Miami Dolphins: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
Miami sacrificed its 2022 first-round pick for a reason, there is an elite player it wants from this draft class. Kyle Pitts is the best tight end to enter the NFL Draft in years and he will be a star almost immediately. The Dolphins want to help Tua Tagovailoa and Pitts is the unique weapon who will make his quarterback’s life so much easier. If not Pitts, our Dolphins’ seven-round mock draft provides an alternative scenario. – Matt Johnson
7. Detroit Lions: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
If the Bengals were really smart, they’d be mortgaging their future and getting Penei Sewell here, too. OK I’ll stop with my Cincinnati obsession for now. Anyway, the Detroit Lions are obviously rebuilding, and I’m not sure new GM Brad Holmes actually believes in Jared Goff despite their shared history with the Los Angeles Rams. Whoever the Lions’ long-term QB is, they’ll need some weapons, and Jaylen Waddle is frequently compared to Tyreek Hill due to his game-breaking speed. That’s a great place to start. — Matt Fitzgerald
8. Carolina Panthers: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
Time will tell whether or not Carolina Panthers‘ huge investment in Darnold pays off. The receiving corps and coaching staff provide a phenomenal supporting cast, but a strong offensive line is even more crucial for him to prove he isn’t an NFL Draft bust. Penei Sewell might have lost some of his draft luster following his 2020 opt-out decision, but this is still a player who had a 91.1 PFF pass-blocking grade in 2019. He can be a perennial Pro Bowl tackle and with him on the left side, Darnold will have everything he needs to thrive. – Matt Johnson
9. Denver Broncos: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Imagine waiting until the ninth pick and having Trey Lance fall into your lap. Lance hails from a pro-style offense and is comfortable under center, which will make Broncos play-caller Pat Shurmur happy. Lance also has little experience from college and played at the FCS level. This sets up an ideal scenario in which Drew Lock can play out 2021 with his loaded cast of young skill players so that Denver for sure sees what it has in him. Most probably, however, Lance supplants Lock by midseason. – Matt Fitzgerald
10. Dallas Cowboys: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
Nearly every 2021 NFL mock draft as of late sends Patrick Surtain II to the Dallas Cowboys. More and more, though, offensive line might be the way to go. Look at the Dak Prescott contract, that is a monumental investment in the franchise quarterback. The only way Jerry Jones’ bet pays off is with insurance. Rashawn Slater could become an All-Pro guard at the next level and he could thrive there as a rookie. Then, when Tyron Smith retires or gets hurt, Slater can kick outside and be a pillar for years to come. As for filling out the rest of the needs, our Cowboys’ mock draft takes care of that. – Matt Johnson.
11. New York Giants: Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami (FL)
The concussion history and time away from football are red flags, but Jaelan Phillips is otherwise an absolute stud off the edge who showed no ill effects in 2020 when he dominated for the Miami Hurricanes. It’s fascinating to think about the Sliding Doors scenario that was in play this past college football season. Like, what if Gregory Rousseau and Phillips played together? Can’t imagine how scary that’d be. Anyway, the New York Giants might have an All-Pro pass-rusher in Phillips to fill out their suddenly stout defense. – Matt Fitzgerald
12. Philadelphia Eagles: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
Easy pickings here for the Philadelphia Eagles. Patrick Surtain II was off the board when last we mocked a draft, but given the choice between him and the admittedly exciting Jaycee Horn, Surtain gets the slight edge. It just seems like there’s little bust factor to Surtain’s game, as he’s the most polished and technically sound corner in the 2021 class. Horn can get grabby and overly aggressive. Either way, the Eagles wait till Round 2 to add a playmaking pass-catcher to help out Jalen Hurts in this scenario. Sorry, I think our orders got messed up, Indy Matt. I went ahead and wrote two blurbs in a row. – Matt Fitzgerald
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
HOW ‘BOUT THREE? I did personally make this pick, and one thing we’ve realized in these weekly mocks is that no matter what, the Los Angeles Chargers and the Dolphins seem to come away as huge winners in just about every conceivable scenario. You can read our killer Chargers seven-round mock draft, for more goodness, but Christian Darrisaw is a beast of a left tackle who’d be a key cog in the ongoing effort to protect young franchise QB Justin Herbert. – Matt Fitzgerald
14. Minnesota Vikings: Alijah Vera-Tucker, iOL, USC
The Minnesota Vikings released Riley Reiff, clearing the way for Ezra Cleveland to take over at left tackle. It creates a glaring need on the interior offensive line, a void that Alijah Vera-Tucker can fill quite easily. A standout in pass protection with the pro-readiness to excel at guard right away, he is a great fit for Minnesota. After adding Vera-Tucker, our seven-round Vikings’ mock draft demonstrates how the defense can be strengthened on Day 2. – Matt Johnson.
15. Atlanta Falcons*: Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
The way I’ve seen Azeez Ojulari bend off the edge on some of his pass-rushing reps seems to defy the laws of physics. His wiry frame and lack of polished technique aren’t too concerning, because first of all, the Falcons have some talent up front with Grady Jarrett and Dante Fowler Jr. in the fold. Ojulari doesn’t have to be a finished product in Year 1. What he can do is use raw speed, quickness and rare instincts to be a pass-rushing force. If the Atlanta Falcons trade back this far, Ojulari is a great target. – Matt Fitzgerald
16. Arizona Cardinals: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
It’s very tempting to select Jaycee Horn, a popular pick for the Arizona Cardinals in a 2021 NFL mock draft. But this team’s bread and butter is its offense, Kliff Kingsbury wants more weapons. DeVonta Smith’s ideal role is as a No. 2 receiver and he’d have that with the Cardinals. Put him in the slot with DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green out wide, watch out. – Matt Johnson.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
This is the most Las Vegas Raiders pick to ever Las Vegas Raider. Micah Parsons’ talent isn’t in question. It’s the other stuff, namely this. Well, Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock have acquired the likes of Antonio Brown, Richie Incognito and Vontaze Burfict in their time overseeing Las Vegas’ personnel. Parsons’ potential off-field concerns aren’t really being talked about of late, so if he’s still available, his talent is too good for the Raiders’ desperately lacking defense to pass up. — Matt Fitzgerald
18. Miami Dolphins: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
Miami didn’t get a chance to sign Aaron Jones in free agency and the options after that dropped off. Given what this team’s identity is going to be, running the ball effectively is crucial. Harris might be a late first-round talent, but he’s a do-it-all back who will fit well with the Dolphins. – Matt Johnson.
19. Washington Football Team: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
Curtis Samuel. Terry McLaurin. Rashod Bateman. Ryan “Fitzmagic” Fitzpatrick. Give this bearded gunslinger the launch codes in the nation’s capital, because so help us all, Fitzmagic is going to be lifting the Washington Football Team to new heights if that’s the receiving corps he gets to work with in 2021. Seriously, Fitzpatrick has been sabotaged or had the deck stacked against him in every single starting situation he’s ever been in. If Washington commits to him like this, look out for another NFC East title incoming. – Matt Fitzgerald
20. Pittsburgh Steelers*: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
- 2021 NFL MOCK DRAFT TRADE: Chicago Bears trade 20th overall pick to Pittsburgh Steelers for 24th overall, 128th overall and 216th overall picks.’
The Pittsburgh Steelers must improve in the trenches. One thing this offense really missed in 2020, offensive linemen who loved hitting people in the mouth and pushing them around. Teven Jenkins is an imposer at right tackle who loves nothing more than shoving a defensive lineman back like a blocking sled until the echo of the whistle is heard. That’s an edge the Steelers need. – Matt Johnson.
21. Indianapolis Colts: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
Left tackle was kind of the default option for the Indianapolis Colts. Then, I realized something: They need a legitimate pass-rusher and a viable second linebacker to play next to Darius Leonard. Indianapolis could address both those issues with the uber-versatile Zaven Collins. There’s nothing this man can’t do: Scream in off the edge, crush ball-carriers in the running game, cover surprisingly well for weighing about 260 pounds. Feels like the Colts could just trade up for a left tackle or sign someone like Russell Okung. – Matt Fitzgerald
22. Tennessee Titans: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
An ideal scenario for the Tennessee Titans. The cornerback room should look very different in 2021, reflected in the addition of Janoris Jenkins. It’s a nice addition, but the Titans need a lot more. Horn is extremely physical, supremely athletic and plays with the mindset you want from top cornerbacks. If Tennessee is going to have a weak pass rush, it must have a strong secondary. – Matt Johnson.
23. New York Jets: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
The lack of college production makes me doubt Kwity Paye. The fact that he played under Jim Harbaugh and at least received good football coaching while dealing with all the extraneous drama around the Wolverines’ declining program makes me think Paye can handle the transition to the NFL. Robert Saleh is bringing a new swagger to the Jets, and during his time as San Francisco’s defensive coordinator, he saw how valuable a strong front four is. Paye is a great fit in New York’s base 4-3 D. – Matt Fitzgerald
24. Chicago Bears*: Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame
There are rumors the Chicago Bears could ultimately trade up for a quarterback, color me skeptical. Trading down is likely in Chicago’s best interest, given the number of needs on offense and an urgency to address them. In this spot, the Bears pick up fourth- and sixth-round picks, all while still grabbing a quality right tackle. We explore another trade-down scenario in our Bears’ mock draft. – Matt Johnson.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars: Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
The Jags strike again in the first round, and nab a versatile offensive tackle in Samuel Cosmi who’s had plenty of experience at both left and right tackle. Jacksonville made the rather shocking move to franchise tag Cam Robinson, and the thought is that the new coaching staff can get much more out of his immense talent than his career track record suggests can be had. Cosmi can begin on the right side and push out Jawaan Taylor — or push Taylor to step up — and may even be on the left side by 2022. – Matt Fitzgerald
26. Cleveland Browns: Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State
The Cleveland Browns need to find a partner for Myles Garrett. While Jayson Oweh didn’t record a sack in 2020, he generated a ton of pressure and showed he can get into the backfield. The combination of length, athleticism and his quick first step are the tools of a high-end edge rusher. Put him on the opposite side of Garrett, the sacks will come. – Matt Johnson.
27. Baltimore Ravens: Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
Trevon Moehrig is pretty clearly the best safety prospect in the 2021 class, and the Baltimore Ravens‘ play at that position is just OK. I know! Lamar Jackson needs a No. 1 receiver. That’s where, say, trading a 2022 first-rounder to the QB-desperate Bears in exchange for Allen Robinson might come in handy, or swapping Orlando Brown Jr. for Robinson in an epic one-for-one move. Check out our Ravens seven-round mock to see how a Brown deal might impact their draft strategy. — Matt Fitzgerald
28. New Orleans Saints: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
The New Orleans Saints need to improve defensively. Once boasting a top defense, New Orleans is dealing with significant losses thanks to the shrinking NFL salary cap. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is a listed linebacker but would play a Jeremy Chinn-like role as a rookie. That kind of defensive chess piece is dangerous in any scheme. – Matt Johnson.
29. Green Bay Packers: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
After the debacle that was last year’s draft, I feel like the Green Bay Packers don’t really deserve a break. But for Aaron Rodgers‘ sake, it’s nice that they’re getting one here. Caleb Farley is obviously the highest-ceiling cornerback in this draft. The problem is, he has a medical red flag that’s scaring teams off. As long as the Packers check him out and he passes, Farley would be a monumental upgrade as their No. 2 corner opposite Jaire Alexander. Please, not another year of Kevin King, am I right Cheeseheads? – Matt Fitzgerald
30. Buffalo Bills: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
If the Buffalo Bills want any chance at competing with the Kansas City Chiefs, they need to improve against the pass. Tre’Davious White is an outstanding, young cornerback but he can’t do this on his own. Greg Newsome II showed tremendous instincts, intelligence and quickness at Northwestern. As the No. 2 cornerback, he could do well. – Matt Johnson.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State
There’s some concern about competition level and play strength, but Dillon Radunz is an exceptional athlete at the left tackle spot who can accommodate Patrick Mahomes‘ penchant for scramble drills and drifting, super-deep dropbacks. Radunz should be an upgrade over whoever Kansas City was planning to trot out in Week 1 to protect Mahomes’ blind side. Meanwhile, as part of this historic offense, Radunz can get his confidence growing right away and turn into at least an above-average starter. – Matt Fitzgerald
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
The Buccaneers could go in a variety of direction, that’s the benefit of bringing back all 22 starters from a Super Bowl champion. While this backfield is already loaded, it could benefit from adding a true home-run hitter. Travis Etienne just needs a little opening and his speed will do the rest. Behind Tampa Bay’s dominant offensive line, we’d see plenty of 40-plus yard runs from Etienne. – Matt Johnson.