Every year, colleagues Jenny Vrentas, Albert Breer and I battle it out for mock draft supremacy. Every year, I end up going first, which is all right with me. (Technically, Albert got a head start this year with his early iteration, but he’ll have another one the week of the draft.) First is sometimes preferred, as waiting too long gets you sucked into the misinformation spiral. Last is difficult because the consensus begins to come back around, though probably not in enough time to rescue a board that looks more like a tangled Jacob’s ladder by then.
Last year and the year before were a bit of a disaster for me, as my tendency to fall hard for players (DeAndre Baker in 2019, Cole Kmet in 2020) and descramble deep position groups always comes back to bite me. This year, the receiver class will be somewhat complicated to sort out, as will the quarterbacks after the Jets’ pick at No. 2. I think offensive tackle will also be a little more difficult than the football consiglieri are suggesting right now.
Without further ado, I will start my process of losing to Jenny with best foot forward. Questions/comments/complaints? My direct messages are always open. To answer your inevitable first question: No, I’m not sure how I get paid to do this either.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
It feels good to start this thing out knowing I’ll get one right. Lawrence is the complete package, a generational talent whose 2020 season saw 85% of his balls on target and 89% of them deemed “catchable” by Sports Info Solutions. Lawrence can pilot an offense, he is mobile enough to grease the zone read game and can hit receivers at any part of the field.
2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
A few years back, I wrote a piece on the first generation of young QBs who grew up in youth football imitating Tom Brady. Wilson looks to be the product of the first generation to imitate Aaron Rodgers. His frenetic backfield dancing and rope of an arm show someone who can unleash a devastating throw at any moment, regardless of whether his shoulders are set and his feet are planted.
3. San Francisco 49ers (via Dolphins): Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
I have a hard time with the seeming inevitability that San Francisco will take Mac Jones. It simply doesn’t feel right to me. Nothing more, nothing less. Lance is throwing at a second pro day next week that both Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch are set to attend. He’s built for a run-first offense and can provide the 49ers with the mobile, battering-ram element from the QB position that Jimmy Garoppolo never could.
Another hunch as to why I think Lance might be the guy: If you’re drafting Mac Jones, who had nearly double the attempts that Lance did in college, you might be more willing to let go of Jimmy Garoppolo. Holding on to him (for now) suggests the QB is more of a project. Let’s look at the attempts of each of the five consensus top QBs:
Trevor Lawrence: 1,138
Zach Wilson: 835
Trey Lance: 317
Mac Jones: 556
Justin Fields: 618
4. Denver Broncos (via projected trade with the Falcons): Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
There isn’t a ton of urgency here now that the Panthers have committed some serious capital toward Sam Darnold as their QB1 of the (near) future. So in this scenario, Atlanta drops its price, collects an additional first-round pick in 2022 and the Broncos get peace of mind, leapfrogging anyone who they may believe to be active (Panthers and Lions) so they can secure their guy.
Why Jones over Fields? I think Jones is slightly better under pressure. I think Pat Shurmur’s connections to Alabama’s pro-style staff will probably result in some tea leaves pointing to Jones. I think the Broncos staff probably saw a lot of Jones in person during the scouting process of Jerry Jeudy, which is why I wouldn’t put a ton of stock into GM George Paton skipping the Crimson Tide’s pro day in 2021 to attend Ohio State’s with Fields.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
While I think, depending on how the board plays out, there’s a chance Rashawn Slater will go before Sewell, I think Sewell has more experience in a zone-blocking offense, which more tightly aligns with the Bengals’ offensive philosophies. It would be absolutely irresponsible for Cincinnati to reach for an offensive playmaker instead of a tackle who can protect their battered franchise quarterback. Sewell gives the Bengals promising bookends for the near future.
What about Riley Reiff, you ask? His one-year, $7.5 million deal doesn’t preclude them from making this move. And Reiff has admitted an openness to shifting to guard (the Bengals have said in the past that Jonah Williams will not be moving inside).
6. Miami Dolphins (via Eagles): Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
One would assume that the Dolphins have had plenty of chances to see Pitts in person and get to know the 240-pound dual-threat pass catcher, who was far more a receiver than a tight end at Florida. Offensive coordinator George Godsey was in New England during the Patriots’ formative double-tight-end years and knows what a player of this magnitude adds to the offense. Pitts would give a developing Tua Tagovailoa more than just a reliable mid-range target. He comes down with the 50–50 balls too.
7. Detroit Lions: Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU
I guess I would go with Chase over Jaylen Waddle here because he seems slightly more willing to bite someone’s kneecap off? In all seriousness, if Pitts is off the board (and Pitts isn’t exactly the blocker you’d want, either) the Lions have the chance to provide Jared Goff with a receiver who could develop into one as good as Kenny Golladay, whom Detroit lost via free agency. Chase added 0.69 EPA per target during his final year at LSU, and is an epic playmaker worth the investment.
8. Carolina Panthers: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
This selection would allow the Panthers to bump Cam Erving to guard, adding to an offensive line that could finally allow Sam Darnold the opportunity to show his skills. Slater didn’t have a single false start in three years with the Wildcats, and he allowed just one sack and one pressure in 2020.
9. Atlanta Falcons (via projected trade with the Broncos): Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
The temptation here would certainly be to dive into this run of elite wide receivers, but would that take away from a defense that has been ignored for far too long? Surtain can pair with A.J. Terrell and help Atlanta build a secondary of the future. In his senior year, quarterbacks targeting Surtain had an EPA of -15.6, meaning he was taking away about a third of a point every time someone threw in his direction. That’s good!
10. Dallas Cowboys: Jaycee Horn, DB, South Carolina
Ideally, for the Cowboys, Justin Fields won’t slide, which could instead push Patrick Surtan II into their laps. With Surtain off the board though, Horn is not a bad second option for a team that is desperate for help at the cornerback position. The Gamecocks asked Horn to split man and zone responsibilities about half the time, meaning he should be comfortable in the Seahawksian defense Dan Quinn hopes to bring to Dallas.
11. New York Giants: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC
As a prospect, Vera-Tucker measures up to any of the receivers the Giants might be tempted to take here. But he fits with Dave Gettleman’s philosophy, especially with the GM already having signed Kenny Golladay, John Ross and Kyle Rudolph this offseason. Vera-Tucker would help patch up a dreadfully thin inner offensive line and is a return gift for Saquon Barkley, having come through USC with a blown block and pass percentage under 1%.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (via Dolphins): Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
The Eagles traded back and here would still get a receiver they probably coveted in the top 10 prior to their trade with Miami. All is well and Waddle pairs with the still-likable Jalen Reagor to form the core of Nick Sirianni’s new offense. Philadelphia has a lot of work to do, but Waddle is a value they cannot possibly pass up.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
Even after some offseason upgrades, there’s still a massive hole at left tackle for the Chargers. Darrisaw allowed 10 pressures in his entire career with the Hokies. Justin Herbert would appreciate the thought, even if he may also be interested in an offensive weapon to replace Hunter Henry.
14. Minnesota Vikings: Kwity Paye, edge, Michigan
Minnesota is good enough to legitimately make a run at the division this year, but needs a vintage performance from Mike Zimmer’s defense. In a shortened, four-game audition this year, Paye logged 17 hurries and 23 quarterback hits. Paye is the kind of field director who can unlock some of Minnesota’s floating parts defensively.
15. New England Patriots: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Bill Belichick will stop the slide and give himself a potential top-five passer at No. 15. Fields will probably not make it this far. I’ve seen a few mock drafts with New England trading up to No. 8 and occupying Carolina’s spot in order to get him before the Broncos, but in my version Denver has traded up. Belichick’s relationship with Urban Meyer can’t necessarily serve him at this point now that Meyer is a competitor in the NFL, but there is little doubt he can get access to the truth on Fields, and what people really think about the dual-threat passer, who would be a fine stylistic complement to Cam Newton in New England.
Teammate Albert Breer recently reported that Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will be one of a few coaches on hand for Fields’s second pro day workout. Because the Patriots rarely trade up, perhaps they have an inkling that Fields will be available at their pick and are doing due diligence.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama
If you’re going to run four-wide, make it DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Devonta Smith and Christian Kirk. Hoo boy. Will one of the top receivers drop this far? Probably not, though I’m having a hard time rationalizing it any other way at this point. Arizona wants to strengthen a strength. The Cardinals want to outscore people on offense and turn the game over to their dominant edge guys on defense.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
At this point, it’s good sport to await the Raiders’ pick and hear the collective “…What?” from the audience. While the jury is still out on Clelin Ferrell and Damon Arnette, Parsons would give the Raiders a chance to plug in a linebacker who, out of this year’s top prospects, has one of the better coverage grades and some pass-rushing acumen to help Jon Gruden finally negate the loss of Khalil Mack. So far he’s scapegoated many of his problems on the defense, and Parsons is a chance to give Gus Bradley what he needs to operate.
18. Miami Dolphins: Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
The stronger Brian Flores’s team gets, the thinner its glaring weaknesses become. Safety might be one of them. Moehrig is talented and wildly athletic. He can play the slot a little bit and is entertaining as anything to watch when he locks onto someone in man coverage. With New England stockpiling tight ends and Buffalo running a similar system that preys on secondary mismatches, Moehrig can save the Bills from getting picked on.
19. Washington Football Team: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
I agree there are bigger needs, but if Washington hits on a left tackle, it’s locked down the best offensive and defensive lines in the league. That’s a dangerous thing for a veteran head coach and quarterback to have in a winnable division. Jenkins is fun to watch mostly because he wallops inferior opponents with regularity. He may end up a guard in the NFL, but it will be worth a shot to see if seasoned offensive line coach John Matsko can get the best out of him.
20. Chicago Bears: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
The rest of the football world expected an explosive move at quarterback from Ryan Pace. He instead pats his stomach contently and says, “gimme Andy Dalton and a good cornerback.” In all seriousness, I could see the Bears getting their QB in Round 2 or 3.
21. Indianapolis Colts: Jaelan Phillips, edge, Miami
If teams can get past the fact that he retired from football due to a slew of injuries, only to storm back into the game’s consciousness after a stellar final year in Miami (14.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks, 22 hurries and 17 QB hits in 10 games), Phillips seems like a player who could have gone in the top 10 in another universe had certain things broken his way. He is a natural fit for Matt Eberflus’s 4–3 defense on a roster that just lost a great deal of talent.
22. Tennessee Titans: Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia
The fastest cornerback in the draft, Stokes allowed a 38% opposing quarterback completion rate during his final year with the Bulldogs. Stokes can man the outside comfortably and has man/zone versatility, which will serve him well in the Titans’ versatile defense. Tennessee lost a lot of talent in the secondary this offseason, and the rebuild begins here. They Titans have had a good amount of contact with Stokes throughout the process.
23. New York Jets (via Seahawks): Azeez Ojulari, edge, Georgia
I don’t know who the Jets will draft with their second first-round pick, but I do have a very strong feeling it’s going to be a pass rusher, something you might be able to take to the bank. Maybe it’ll be Gregory Rousseau or Rashad Weaver here. I like Ojulari, who had 12.5 tackles for loss his senior year and 8.5 sacks. There’s a really good chance he’ll be gone by now, since he fits the profile of a top-caliber edge rusher so well. Kirby Smart told reporters recently that Ojulari is the player scouts have asked him the most about over the past few months.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
The Steelers are just going to draft a pass-rushing linebacker, but let’s pretend for a moment that teams draft based on dire need. Cosmi is part of this quietly deep offensive line class that, while not as fun to talk about as the wide receiver class, could have some far-reaching ramifications. Pittsburgh desperately needs to repair its offensive line and has not replenished the unit in the first round since 2012 when it took David DeCastro out of Stanford. Now, you can do this when you also find players like Kelvin Beachum in the seventh round. But I think the value matches up here.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Rams): Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa
The Jaguars have their pick of the defensive line class and they need to hit it big. New defensive coordinator Joe Cullen said at his opening press conference how important it was to stop the run because, “A lot of people say it's a throwing league, but if it’s second-and-three and third-and-one all day, you are not going to have the opportunity to get after the quarterback.” Nixon, statistically, is the better of the run-stoppers at the top of this class.
26. Cleveland Browns: Jayson Oweh, edge, Penn State
I think I lean Oweh over Rousseau here because of the impending Jadeveon Clowney signing. This would give Cleveland some time to sand off the rawness in Oweh’s game and utilize him only in ideal pass-rushing situations early in his career, much like the Giants did with Jason Pierre-Paul. While I wasn’t personally blown away by some of his game film against top-tier opponents, there is little doubt that his athleticism merits consideration.
It’s a more complicated question than you might think. I’ve heard countless times this draft season that scouts and executives prefer a more finished product and that prospects like Oweh might struggle to rise like they would have in the past. Clowney’s presence, along with the signing of Takk McKinley this offseason, mitigates that risk.
27. Baltimore Ravens: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
Baltimore can stand pat and get one of the premier wideouts in this class. The Chase/Waddle/Smith grouping gets all the hype because of the oversaturated AAU nature of the SEC, but Bateman was putting an entire offense on his back in Minnesota. His blocking talent is more than adequate, which helps with Baltimore’s downhill running game. He is equally effective against man and zone coverage.
28. New Orleans Saints: Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
I had a tough time picking between Moore and someone like Asante Samuel Jr. here, but it comes down to New Orleans’s clear pivot to a more positionless offense with Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston (unless the Saints make a huge trade up for a quarterback, in which case, please disregard). Moore can be a difference maker for the Saints. He can line up in the backfield and, along with Alvin Kamara, create a dizzying array of backfield orbit motions to puzzle defenses. Had Drew Brees not retired, I probably would have leaned cornerback.
29. Green Bay Packers: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
Surprise! Not a wide receiver. But I think Aaron Rodgers would agree that some defensive deficiencies (as well as some game-planning complications) led to their most recent collapse as much as anything. Owusu-Koramoah would give the Packers a player who can cover hybrid athletes. Last year at Notre Dame, he was targeted 26 times in the passing game and allowed just 13 completions. His sack numbers aren’t overwhelming, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a special ancillary blitzer.
30. Buffalo Bills: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
It’s value here. Perhaps Buffalo would lean edge here, or maybe look for another weapon to help buoy the offense, like a top-tier running back or some help on the interior of the offensive line. I think a third cornerback bolsters them against the best offenses they’ll face in 2021, while also protecting them against the Patriots and Dolphins, both of whom upgraded at pass-catcher this offseason.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame
The Chiefs’ outside pass protection is still a bit of a disaster, even if Mike Remmers and Andrew Wylie got too much of the blame from their Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay. Still, the Chiefs need offensive line talent in the pipeline and Eichenberg, who didn’t allow a single sack of quarterback Ian Book last year, fits the bill nicely.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State
I’m taking a flier here, given that it would produce a lot of bad feature stories about Tom Brady playing with both Asante Samuel and Asante Samuel Jr. What!? He’s old! Wow! I would say corner is a safe place to spend your pick equity if you’re considered a “complete” defense. Samuel can develop into a fine player for Todd Bowles, helping him continue building what was a Super Bowl–winning unit from a year ago.
More NFL Draft Coverage:
* Orr: Texas A&M's Kellen Mond Is Rising Up Draft Boards By Doing Things His Way
* Prewitt: What Happens Now to the NFL Prospects Who Opted Out of Their Final College Season?
* Breer's Draft Mailbag: Falcons Plans at No. 4, Teams That Could Trade Up and More