2021 NFL Mock Draft: Dolphins get their playmaker, Carolina takes Justin Fields

With the NFL Draft just over a week away, wide receivers and quarterbacks appear set to dominate the Day One headlines. My latest mock draft includes a mix of scouting reports, other mocks, and just a dash of personal bias. No trades, because the Chicago Bears will inevitably strike a deal worse than anything I could dream up. Let’s dive in.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars — Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

Every year, my friend and I bet a dollar on who the No. 1 draft pick will be. Not this time. This pick is so certain that Lawrence has already made a $20,000 donation to Jacksonville charities. Jets fans might want to close their eyes.

2. New York Jets — Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

Unless you count Chad Pennington, which you shouldn’t, the last notable quarterback drafted by the Jets was Joe Namath. Wilson joins the team as yet another franchise savior, with the mobility and playmaking ability to bring some excitement to a worn out fan base. 

3. San Francisco 49ers — Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

San Francisco isn’t done swapping picks, and they may trade down here. What the team needs is an offensive playmaker, and the only one worthy of being drafted this high is TE Kyle Pitts — a position the Niners obviously have covered. But if they do stay put at No. 3, they’ll almost certainly upgrade at quarterback and try to run back their 2019 Super Bowl season.

4. Atlanta Falcons — Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

Atlanta has been telling people that Matt Ryan still has a few years of quality football left, and they may not be bluffing. They’ll pass on a quarterback here to pair Pitts with wideouts Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, creating one of the most intimidating receiving corps in football — if they don’t trade down.

5. Cincinnati Bengals — Penei Sewell, OL, Oregon

Wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase is an option, but franchise quarterback Joe Burrow is returning from an ACL tear and needs better protection. Sewell is as good as it gets: 331 pounds of explosive ability with a high football IQ.

6. Miami Dolphins — Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

Miami’s front office will panic if the Falcons take Pitts, but celebrate when the Bengals choose Sewell. Chase is a transcendent receiver like the Dolphins have never had, with the quickness and route running ability to compensate for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s growing pains.

7. Detroit Lions — Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

Detroit is entering a rebuild, and they’re better off riding it out with Jared Goff than taking a flyer at quarterback here. The best option is to find a reliable offensive lineman, but Sewell is the only truly elite prospect. Instead, the Lions “settle” for Waddle and bank on finding their quarterback with a top five pick next year. 

8. Carolina Panthers — Justin Fields, QB, Ohio St.

The Panthers didn’t give up that much for Sam Darnold, and there’s no way for them to be confident he’s the guy. If Fields is still available at No. 8, he’s going to Carolina. Head coach Matt Rhule will be willing to have an open competition in training camp, one that Fields will likely win.

9. Denver Broncos — Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

The poor Broncos are always stuck in the middle: not good enough to make the playoffs but not bad enough to draft a top quarterback. They’ve missed too many times at the position, so they’ll settle for Surtain, a proven corner with the size to match up with the league’s best.

10. Dallas Cowboys — Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

The Dallas defense was embarrassing last year, finishing 28th in points allowed. Pass rush is more of an immediate need, but Jerry Jones has a history of taking the best player available. Horn has more talent than any of this year’s defensive ends.

11. New York Giants — Rashawn Slater, OL, Northwestern

Sometime in the distant future, the Giants will enter a draft without gaping holes along the offensive line. That day is not today. Slater is smaller than most tackles but has an NFL-ready skill set, something New York has repeatedly learned is necessary in a prospect.

12. Philadelphia Eagles — Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama

Speaking of embarrassing NFC East facts, the Eagles haven’t had a 1,000-yard wide receiver since 2014. The top option on their depth chart is Jalen Reagor, who you’ve probably never heard of if you’re not an Eagles fan. Plus, who wouldn’t want to see Smith reunite with quarterback Jalen Hurts?

13. Los Angeles Chargers — Christian Darrisaw, OL, Virginia Tech

The rule still applies: protect your young quarterback. It will be tempting to give Justin Herbert another weapon, but the Chargers need to elevate a left tackle position that has been mediocre for too long.

14. Minnesota Vikings — Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan 

The Vikings totaled 23 sacks last year, and their best defensive end had 3.5. There’s better value than Paye available here, but they won’t go very far in January if they don’t address their problems on the edge.

15. New England Patriots — Trey Lance, QB, N. Dakota St.

Lance is not going to last until the fifteenth pick, but the Patriots have been linked to him for a while either way. Bill Belichick usually isn’t one for splashy trades, but he may need to make an exception to find Tom Brady’s successor. Perhaps a deal with the Falcons could be coming?

16. Arizona Cardinals — Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

The Cardinals have already surrounded Kyler Murray with enough weapons to succeed. A recent back surgery has most experts projecting that Farley will fall to the end of the first round, but when healthy he’s the clear-cut best corner in the class. Someone’s going to take a chance on him.

17. Oakland Raiders — Micah Parsons, LB, Penn St.

John Gruden has a history of making head-scratching picks, but this should be a no-brainer. Linebacker isn’t an obvious need, but Parsons is a top-ten talent that could get lost in the frenzy of quarterbacks and wide receivers.

18. Miami Dolphins — Jeremiah Owsu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame

The Dolphins desperately need an edge rusher, but there isn’t much high-end talent at the position this year. Owusu-Koramoah should help shore up a run defense that lacks a big playmaker and ranked 23rd in tackles for loss last year.

19. Washington Football Team — Zaven Collins, DE, Tulsa

If Washington doesn’t make a big trade to move up the board, they could be starting Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 1. If they stay put, there won’t be an offensive player that makes sense here. Instead, they’ll bolster an already fearsome pass rush with Collins, a speedy complement to Chase Young.

20. Chicago Bears — Teven Jenkins, OL, Oklahoma St.

The Bears have two options here: offer up the farm to San Francisco for the second time in four drafts and risk setting the franchise back years like they did with Mitch Trubisky, or try and address their need at right tackle. Jenkins has the raw power to be a starter for years.

21. Indianapolis Colts — Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

Indianapolis lost to the Bills in the postseason because they had no reliable wide receivers. New quarterback Carson Wentz became a laughing stock in Philadelphia because he had no reliable wide receivers. Guess who the Colts are drafting? They could probably trade down and still end up with Bateman or Elijah Moore.

22. Tennessee Titans — Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami

After a failed experiment with Jadeveon Clowney, the Titans are still an edge rusher away from joining the upper echelon of NFL teams. Phillips comes with some injury concerns, but his intangibles are too good to pass up. Besides, Derrick Henry could probably play defensive end if they really needed him to.

23. New York Jets — Azeez Ojuliar, DE, Georgia

With needs at basically every position, the Jets go best player available. Their front seven lacks an identity but is closer to success than you might think.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers — Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

Reports have suggested that the Steelers let James Conner walk because they’re locked into a running back at No. 24. The offense hasn’t looked right since Le’veon Bell’s holdout, and while I’m not convinced Harris is a first round talent, he seems destined to be the pick here.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars —  Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss

Trevor Lawrence wasn’t enough? The Jets get some small measure of revenge by taking Ojuilar off the board, so the Jags give Lawrence an intelligent deep threat who went for 602 yards in his final three games.

26. Cleveland Browns — Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing the Browns picking outside the top 10. Last year, Cleveland learned the hard way that the road to the Super Bowl rests on stopping the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Newsome gives the Browns’ 22nd-ranked pass defense a better shot this time around.

27. Baltimore Ravens — Richie Grant, S, UCF

The Ravens are yet another wideout-needy team, but there won’t be good value with Moore and Bateman gone. Grant is a little rough around the edges, but his speed will gel with Baltimore’s approach. Some scouts have him falling to the second round, but the Ravens often buck expectations in the draft with success (see: Lamar Jackson).

28. New Orleans Saints — Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU

The Saints’ needs don’t match up with the players who will be available here, partially because they don’t actually have many needs. Moehrig is a low-risk pick with the personality to be a locker room leader as the franchise turns a corner without Drew Brees.

29. Green Bay Packers — Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida

Finally. The Packers bow to pressure from their fans by drafting Toney as the door slowly closes on their Super Bowl window. He’s also taken a few snaps at quarterback, and for some reason Green Bay seems to like giving Aaron Rodgers competition. (That was a joke, but so is Jordan Love).

30. Buffalo Bills — Jayson Oweh, DE, Penn St.

Just like with the Browns, it’s all about stopping Kansas City. Oweh has the reflexes to harass Patrick Mahomes and keeps the Bills on track to build the best defense in the league. 

31. Kansas City Chiefs — Alex Leatherwood, OL, Alabama

After releasing former No. 1 pick Eric Fisher, the Chiefs desperately need someone to step up at left tackle. Leatherwood has the versatility and experience to play anywhere on the line.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami

It’s anyone’s guess whether the Bucs’ pass rush is actually the juggernaut that won them a Super Bowl or the inept group we saw in the first half of the season. Regardless, pressure up front is their path towards repeating as champs, and you can’t have too much of a good thing.

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