NFL First Round Mock Draft
Will Usherwood-Bliss gives his predictions for the 2021 NFL Draft
The NFL Draft is just around the corner, in which all 32 teams from across the NFL take it in turns to choose the best college prospects they can. The first round of the draft is often filled with surprises. With the best of the best players from college football making their way to the NFL, teams will find their franchise players, diamonds in the rough, or even moving up to pick a QB when they already had Aaron Rodgers.
When it comes to the draft, any NFL commentator who is anyone will put in their predictions for just who teams will choose. My issue with the NFL commentators who publish their mocks is that they’re often filled with unlikely ‘hot takes’ for bragging rights. So, with this mock I’ve tried to keep it realistic with only the odd bold claim later on. To be clear this mock reflects who I think teams will sign, not who teams should sign. Because trust me, that would be a very different list.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Was this ever in question? Lawrence has been the coveted No.1 pick in the draft since his high school days, with most commentators comparing him to the likes of Elway, Manning and Luck in terms of NFL readiness. Jacksonville already have Gardner Minshew, who does have the potential to be a good starter at QB, but are they really going to pass up on a generational talent like Lawrence?
2. New York Jets
Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
The 2020 New York Jets had a pretty turbulent season to say the least. The combination of trading away multiple top players such as Jamal Adams, poor coaching from Adam Gase, and questionable play calls (see the final play against the Raiders for more information) led to their 2-14 record. They may have missed out on the first pick in this draft, but this year’s QB class is deep. With the trading of Sam Darnold to Carolina, Zach Wilson is their presumed target; the Jets need a rebuild, and a versatile Mahomes-esque playmaker like Wilson is a good first step.
3. San Francisco 49ers
Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota
It’s fair to say that this pick is the most highly debated one in the draft. With Lawrence and Wilson gone, this selection is most likely between Justin Fields, Mac Jones and Trey Lance. Reports have come out saying that the 49ers are choosing between the latter two, and it is very hard to ignore the hype around Mac Jones going to the bay. So why Trey Lance? Because I cannot believe that the 49ers moved up three spots to draft Mac Jones, who will most likely fall beyond No.6 anyway. Lance is one heck of a prospect. Give him a year behind Jimmy G, and he’s simply too good to pass up on.
Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
In terms of safe-bet generational talent in this draft, there are two players. The first being Lawrence, the second being Kyle Pitts. Some have the Falcons taking a QB here, or even trading down; at the end of the day, however, with rumours around a Julio Jones trade, a weakness at the TE position, and a former MVP QB in Matt Ryan, Kyle Pitts ticks all of the boxes.
5. Cincinnati Bengals
Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
I know I said I wouldn’t comment on what I believe teams should do, but if the Bengals draft anything other than an offensive lineman here I’ll eat my hat. Joe Burrow reportedly wants his former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase, which is understandable given their stats together. However, point your attention towards Burrow 32 sacks in 2020 in just 10 games before tearing his ACL due to being sacked, and drafting Chase looks like a mistake. Sewell is the top OT in this draft, and Burrow needs a wall.
6. Miami Dolphins
Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
The NFL fanbase has decided to turn their hate gun towards rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa, which is something I cannot comprehend. Fans across the league are writing him off, even suggesting the Dolphins should draft another quarterback. Personally, I believe he had a pretty good year given he was thrusted into the starting job mis-season in his rookie year. The Dolphins are nearing the end of their rebuild, and Tua is star QB calibre; now give him a serious weapon like Ja’Marr Chase, and we could be looking at a real playoff contender.
7. Detroit Lions
Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
The Lions need a rebuild, badly. Quite frankly, it’s been a long time coming, and with changes at Head Coach and the front office, as well as QB with the Matt Stafford-Jared Goff trade, now is the time. Goff is still young, and albeit he’s struggled recently, don’t forget that he was in the MVP race only a couple of seasons ago, whilst leading his team the Super Bowl. With Golladay gone, the Lions need to give Goff a top receiver. They could go for Heisman winner Devonta Smith, and who could blame them? But Jaylen Waddle is a game changing versatile receiver with a similar skill set to Tyreek Hill, making him a great pickup.
8. New England Patriots (via. Carolina Panthers)
Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
If anyone doubted Bill Belichick as a GM, this offseason silenced that. The loss of Tom Brady hit the Patriots hard, not just in terms of performance but also in the culture. For nearly two decades, all New England knew was winning with Brady at the helm. With him off in sunny Florida handing out free Super Bowls, the Patriots need their next big QB1; Carolina picking up Sam Darnold has sparked rumours that they want out of the top 10, meanwhile the Patriots reportedly want in the top 10. You do the maths. Belichick is reportedly seriously interested in Fields, and with the resigning of Cam Newton, I really look forward to his mentorship of the Ohio State prospect.
Editor’s Note: this article was written before Denver Broncos traded for Teddy Bridgewater (QB)
9. Denver Broncos
Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
This is a bold take, but hear me out. The Broncos could trade up and grab Fields, but realistically the Patriots want it more. Drew Lock had a disappointing season after all the hype at the end of 2019, but it was only his first year as a starter. Denver currently don’t have a seasoned veteran at QB to train a prospect, so they need someone who is NFL ready. Enter Mac Jones. Yes, he was on a super team at Crimson Tide, but he still had an impressive season, topped by a national championship. Let the QB battle in Denver commence.
10. Dallas Cowboys
Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
The 2020 Cowboys were the butt of most of the jokes on social media last season after suffering upset after upset, which was rounded off by failing to win what was easily the worst division last year. However, when Dak Prescott was at the helm, they put up a lot of points. The weak point? The defence couldn’t hold their own. Sure, they could take an OL here, but they need a star CB. They need Patrick Surtain II, who I have as the top CB this year with the potential to be a serious shutdown corner.
11. New York Giants
Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
Realistically this pick is between an OL or a WR. By my reckoning, Daniel Jones has one last season to prove why he went in the Top 10 two years ago. Danny Dimes now has Kenny Golladay to throw to, a remarkable pick up which should help him prove his worth. He’ll have Saquon back, a brutal back who is yet to show his true worth. The thing both Barkely and Jones lack is a proper offensive line, and picking up Slater, who some think should actually be above Sewell, is a great starting place.
12. Philadelphia Eagles
Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Time for Jalen Hurts to prove his worth. The rookie outshone Carson Wentz considerably last season when he took over, and now he has the team to himself. The combination of Reagor, Fulgham and Smith would give him all he needs. Devonta Smith has come off the back of a Heisman winning year, he’s proved he has the talent. The only reason I have him slipping is because of his size, something which has reportedly concerned teams. Personally, I think his 2020 campaign deleted any of those worries, and the Eagles would get themselves a steal here. But hey, they did pick Reagor over Jefferson last year, so this really isn’t set in stone.
13. Los Angeles Chargers
Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
You have the ROTY in Justin Herbert, you have the WRs in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, and you have your RB in Autin Ekeler. So, what do the all-but-rebuilt Chargers lack? An O Line. A big, technically sound tackle like Darrisaw is what they need to really let that run game blow up. Oh, and he didn’t allow a single sack last year.
14. Minnesota Vikings
Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Sure, the Vikings are probably more in need of an edge rush than a LB. Star rusher Danielle Hunter, a phenomenally underrated player, is still an unanswered question when it comes to next season in Minnesota. As such, a new DL addition like Kwity Paye would make sense. But this draft isn’t that deep at defence except for a select number of players, and one of those is very much Micah Parsons. Effective in the pass rush, coverage, run game, you name it. If this guy is still on the board, I don’t see why they wouldn’t take him.
15. Carolina Panthers (via. New England)
Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
If they didn’t trade out of the top 10, which is still likely, then Carolina will most likely take a receiver. However, I have them trading out, so with all the star WRs gone they have two choices: offensive line or defence? If they truly want to test Sam Darnold’s mettle, they will be looking to give him a fair chance. A huge, dominant blocker like Jenkins will help alleviate any claims that Darnold doesn’t have support, as was the argument in New York.
16. Arizona Cardinals
Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
This Cardinals offence is SCARY. Some names: Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, A. J. Green, James Conner. That alone is a terrifying prospect for opposing defences, and now the Cardinals need their own. With Patrick Petersen gone they will need their CB replacement. They already picked up Malcolm Butler, but another baller on the secondary doesn’t hurt. Enter Caleb Farley, a naturally gifted CB whose athleticism gives him a huge ceiling. Right now, Surtain is the top corner for me, but Farley could overtake at the next level with his potential.
17. Las Vegas Raiders
Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami
The Raiders offence is solid. Nothing overly special like Kansas City or Tampa Bay, but nevertheless solid. There aren’t too many faults on that side of the ball, however, the same cannot be said for defence. The defensive line is all over the place, be it injuries or questions over Maxx Crosby. They need a rebuild on this position, and a new edge rush would help significantly. I nearly had them taking Kwity Paye, but he isn’t quite ready to hit the ground running just yet, unlike Phillips. The Miami prospect has everything you would want an edge to have, with speed, power, upper strength and smarts. He is ready to take that to the NFL today.
18. Miami Dolphins
Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
You’ve got your QB a star WR, now solidify the defence. I know I just said Kwity Paye isn’t on the level of Phillips just yet, but that doesn’t mean he is not first round talent. Paye’s athleticism is shocking for an edge rusher, his movement is elite; his upside is something the Dolphins will not want to pass on to strengthen their already established defence.
19. Washington Football Team
Jeremiah Owusa-Koramoah, OLB, Notre Dame
The WFT have a lot of options here: they could move up to take a QB if one falls, they could go for a late first round receiver to compliment Terry McLaurin. I have them going defence, for the simple reason that they could turn it from a great unit to an elite one. Chase Young and the pass rush is already lethal, now add an athletic LB like Owusa-Koramoah who is effective in the pass coverage and even the most elite offence will meet their match.
20. Chicago Bears
Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
The bears need a QB. Plain and simple. No one needs remined of the 2017 draft which saw them move up to take Mitch Trubisky over Mahomes and Watson. Whilst Andy Dalton is a good bridge QB, he is not an NFL starter. With the top 5 QBs gone, they may as well look at the other side of the ball. Jaycee Horn is an aggressive CB to say the least, brutal in the press coverage, perfect for the already violent Bears defence.
21. Indianapolis Colts
Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
If Carson Wentz wanted a second chance, he chose the right team. The Colts offensive line is already one of the best in the league, but they could do with another tackle. Some may call this a bold call taking who most see as a second rounder, so let me explain: Cosmi has a huge upside. He’s arguably the most athletic OL in this draft, and as Indy already has the powerhouse Quenton Nelson, Cosmi could compliment him hugely.
22. Tennessee Titans
Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
With the loss of Malcolm Butler, the Titans will need to regroup at the secondary. Greg Newsome II is a ballhawk through and through, and would excel on most teams. The Titans could go offence here, but I don’t like the depth for the positions they need here, so some defensive help wouldn’t hurt.
23. New York Jets
Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
Zach Wilson will need some targets in New York, and albeit Corey Davis is a solid option, another receiver is needed. Darnold struggled with a lack of targets last season, mainly due to the Jets front office believing that Braxton Berrios would be a good starter for a third year QB. Bateman is not on the level of the top three receivers in this draft, but there is no question he is easily late-first round talent. His clean route running is what a lot of GMs search for in a modern receiver, something which will aid the rebuild hugely.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers
Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
James Conner’s meteoric rise in Pittsburgh was short lived, so much so he’s now playing in Arizona. The Steelers run game was abysmal last year, totalling at 1,351 yards combined! Najee Harris out of Alabama is a perfect solution, he’s a do-all RB. He’s physicaly big, with impressive speed and agility for his size. More to the point, he’s an Alabama RB, a school which is notorious for producing top tier backfield talent like Derrick Henry.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars
Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT, USC
Please don’t make the same mistake Cincinnati made. Please. Protect your franchise QB. Urban Meyer and Trent Baalke will be looking to the draft to make sure Lawrence has the tools he needs to make his Jacksonville career a long and fruitful one, and Vera-Tucker is as good a choice as any; most even rank him above Cosmi.
26. Cleveland Browns
Christian Barmore, DL, Alabama
Offensively, the Browns have huge potential this season. Baker Mayfield seems to have found his feet again after a slump in his second year, OBJ and Landry are a Top 5 WR pairing in my eyes, and the backfield may well be the best in the NFL. Defensively, the Browns are fairly balanced, but that doesn’t mean the defensive line could do with some more help. With the Clowney pickup, an interior lineman like Barmore, who proved his worth in his final year at Alabama, would settle any issues in the line.
26. Baltimore Ravens
Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
The NFL community love to hate Lamar Jackson. The former MVP dual threat has proven he’s more than a modern Michael Vick, but his throwing game lacks a reliable receiving core. Hollywood Brown is still developing, and with the addition of Sammy Watkins, Jackson now has two speedy targets. Kadarius Toney is the answer to the reliable target question – explosiveness, route running, reasonably sized, the best pick up here to aid the Ravens to a Super Bowl run.
27. New Orleans Saints
Asante Samuel Jr., CB, FSU
This will be a QB battle to watch. Jameis Winston, looking to eat Ws (sorry, I had to) and prove to the league that he is the 2015 No.1 pick. Taysom Hill, the swiss army knife who looks to show his worth at QB to a front office who love him. I reckon Winston will take it, but nevertheless it’ll be very interesting. So, let the offense play out, and look to the secondary. Samuel Jr. may be undersized, but his route reading is second-to-none.
28. Green Bay Packers
Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU
Here were, the point in the first round where the conference championship contenders make their picks. These four picks, minus the Ravens who traded in, are basically complementary picks. So, how do you complement Aaron Rodgers? Give him a WR like Marshall Jr. who is perhaps the biggest diamond in the rough. His future projection could be elevated with Rodgers and Adams playing alongside him, making sure the former has a receiving core in the future. You know, unless Green Bay decide to draft a QB in the first round whilst having a Hall of Fame worthy thrower already there, wouldn’t be the first time…or the second…
29. Buffalo Bills
Levi Onwuzurike, DL, Washington
Not much to say here other than the Bills are already Super Bowl contenders without this pick. If it was any other team in the AFC Championship, the Bills would have walked over them. Strong on both sides of the ball, the Bills could strengthen arguably their weakest position at defensive line, so they take the number two lineman in the draft. A disruptor on any play, Onwuzurike could really assist an already strong Buffalo defence.
30. Baltimore Ravens
Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame
With Orlando Brown Jr. gone, they need someone to fill his boots immediately. Eichenberg is no athletic freak, but he is NFL ready. An anchor on the offensive line and one of the most consistent players in this draft, Eichenberg will be ready by day one to protect Jackson from the largest players opposing defensive lines had to offer.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
I won’t lie to you, this pick is probably the hardest to try and predict in the first round. What on earth do you get the team who has everything? The Bucs dominated the Chiefs in the Super Bowl, leaving Mahomes vulnerable on all of his downs and pushing through the Chiefs defence on all of theirs. They have become the first team in Super Bowl era history to resign all 22 of their championship winning starters. Even still, a little extra assistance on the defence never hurt anyone, especially when that player could easily become a starter. Ojulari may not fall this far, but with not so many teams needing help on the edge rush this year, the speedy former Bulldog is a steal if he does.