The 2021 NFL Draft will start with the excitement of a new set of NFL-caliber quarterbacks, followed by a strong set of skill players, and rounded out with a series of players who could go anywhere between picks 20-to-50.
That’s the beauty of the draft! Getting the cream of the crop at the top, then sorting out scheme fits and potential from then on. Let's take a look at how the first round of the draft could play out, in just 81 days from now.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
The Jaguars have been in quarterback purgatory for much of their existence as a franchise. Blake Bortles was a wash, Gardner Minshew couldn’t maintain “Minshew Mania” and the roster surrounding the quarterback could never be held together. It all starts at the quarterback position and the rest of the team will follow. The Jaguars solve their quarterback woes for the foreseeable future.
2. New York Jets: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
There is talk that this pick will be Zach Wilson of BYU. However, Fields is a better prospect who possesses excellent physical traits and has shown strong leadership skills. When Fields was hurt against Clemson in the college football playoffs, his toughness united his offense and rallied his team. Those are impressive intangibles that scouts saw and shouldn’t be ignored. Add in his talent and traits, this is a no-brainer selection for a team in need of a quarterback.
3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston): Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
The Dolphins are sticking with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and will devote this draft to ensuring he has everything he needs to be successful. They should start by grabbing the best offensive line prospect in some time, which will complete an already impressive line. With Sewell protecting, Tagovailoa will be able to maximize his weapons on the field and elevate the Miami offense.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State University
This is the perfect scenario for the Falcons and Lance. The NFL is quickly shifting to be dominated by toolsy developmental superstar quarterbacks; Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert and Aaron Rodgers come to mind. Some of these players spent time on the bench, in order to grow and develop before seeing time on the field. Lance will have the opportunity to do the same in Atlanta behind Matt Ryan. Also, the Falcons have the chance to off-load Matt Ryan somewhat painlessly in 2022, so this can be his last hurrah in Atlanta while Lance prepares to take over.
5. Carolina Panthers (via Cincinnati): Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
TRADE: Panthers send picks No.8, No.40 and No.73 to the Cincinnati Bengals in exchange for pick No.5.
With Penei Sewell being drafted at the third pick, the Bengals’ phone lines start exploding. The Bengals, who need to add as many quality offensive linemen as possible this offseason, take as many 2021 picks as the Panthers will offer. The Panthers, who don’t have much cap flexibility this year but could have over $100 million in 2022, are willing to offer whatever is necessary to get a franchise quarterback now, who can succeed later. Wilson is the last one on the board worth this investment.
6. Philadelphia Eagles: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
The Eagles have problems all over their roster and cap situation. They choose to take Chase as the safest wide receiver in the draft, even if his ceiling isn’t as high as some of the other players. Philadelphia appears to be at the start of a rebuild (even though they may keep quarterback Carson Wentz) and the whole roster will be torn down. This is a safe, ‘best player available’ selection at a position of need that can inject some life into their offense for Wentz or backup quarterback Jalen Hurts.
7. Detroit Lions: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
The Lions are in a similar situation as the Eagles, in that they have issues all across the roster. They take one of the safest building block linebackers in recent memory to help build up their defense. Wide receiver DeVonta Smith is in consideration here but his small stature brings concerns to the NFL and the Lions could opt not to risk it at pick seven.
8. Cincinnati Bengals (via Carolina): Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
TRADE: Bengals send pick No.5 to the Carolina Panthers for picks No.8, No.40 and No.73.
With Sewell being off the board at pick three, the Bengals recoup picks from the Panthers that they can use to build the offensive line. Darrisaw isn’t their top choice but the athletic tackle out of Virginia Tech will pair with offensive tackle Jonah Williams to help protect quarterback Joe Burrow for the future. This is the necessary foundation to maximize Burrow and keep him healthy.
9. Denver Broncos: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
The Broncos grab one of the safest cornerback prospects in the draft this year, filling a position of need for their defense. Surtain is a plug-and-play cornerback who has everything: speed, quickness, size, physicality, pedigree and more. This is a slight fall for Surtain but having four quarterbacks go in the top ten will push top talent like Surtain back a bit.
10. Dallas Cowboys: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
One of the strongest risers in the 2021 draft cycle, Horn has the physicality and swagger to make it in the NFL. The Cowboys desperately need to build their pass defense and they have more resources allocated to the defensive line and pass-rush already. They choose to take a draft darling in Horn to add some buzz but more importantly, to repair their horrendous pass coverage.
11. New York Giants: Jaelen Phillips, EDGE, Miami
The UCLA transfer has the potential to be the best edge rusher out of this year’s class, as he is an athlete first and a pass-rusher second. The Giants could use a nine-technique pass-rusher and Phillips possesses tremendous upside. The Giants get a player who can be maximized by the talents of Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, and/or Leonard Williams, depending on how they choose to allocate their salary cap.
12. San Francisco 49ers: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
The 49ers have the pass-rush and linebackers to make for a solid front-seven. What they will likely be lacking in 2021 after cornerback Richard Sherman departs in free agency or retires, is a standout, lockdown cornerback to run with opposing teams’ best wide receivers. Farley has rare quickness and twitch at the cornerback position but lacks polish at times. He is strongest in man coverage and once he gets a feel for the speed of the NFL, he can grow into playing zone coverage, while showing off his athleticism in man for the 49ers.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
The Chargers have their quarterback in Justin Herbert. He has strong tools, with a rocket arm and mobility. The Chargers’ front office needs to maximize those tools as much as possible. By protecting Herbert with a stout offensive line, his mobility can be turned from a protective asset into an aggressive asset, used by the coaches to cause problems for the defense. Cosmi has room to grow as a blocker but he can be that protection on one side of the line for Herbert.
14. Minnesota Vikings: Rashawn Slater, OL, Northwestern
The NFL seems to be extremely high on Slater but what he offers is the potential to be a stout interior offensive lineman or become a strong offensive tackle in the NFL. Much like Jaelen Phillips, the Wildcats mauler is a mold of clay that the Vikings can choose to fit into their specific needs. Slater could begin on the inside and then move to the outside in time, or he could be brought in to shift the line around even more. Either way, his slide ends here and the Vikings get a versatile lineman to help protect quarterback Kirk Cousins, or whoever they find at the quarterback position in the future.
15. New England Patriots: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
The Heisman winner could be looking at a draft day slide due to size concerns but New England doesn’t care. The Patriots have outgoing free agents along the offensive line that they have the cap space to re-sign and a strong defense that was hampered by COVID-19 opt-outs this season. With the defense returning to greatness, the Patriots look to the other side of the ball. Belichick traditionally takes linemen and defensive players in the draft but he has occasionally splurged on the best playmakers available. With a strong need for offensive playmakers, Smith offers incredible flexibility for the offense with his versatility.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
The Cardinals have problems along their offensive line but the top prospects are all gone following the Slater pick. Pitts offers something just as strong for quarterback Kyler Murray: even more dangerous potential offensively. With an offense consisting of the athletically talented Murray, one of the best all-around receivers in the league in DeAndre Hopkins and Pitts, one of the top tight end prospects in recent memory, the Cardinals can ignore their offensive line woes and focus on creating a fast-paced passing offense behind Murray.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
The Raiders haven’t figured out their defense and most specifically their pass-rush. Maxx Crosby is a young piece to the line but adding another pass-rusher on the outside to rotate in with Clelin Ferrel could be beneficial to the Raiders. Paye offers rare athleticism to grow and develop as a seven-technique defensive end. Paye could be a fringe top-ten pick, so the value here for Las Vegas will have Gruden jumping for joy.
18. Miami Dolphins: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
With the offensive line secured, the Dolphins look to maximize Tagovailoa by building the weapons around him. Miami currently has tall basketball-type wide receivers but not much in the run-after-catch types that Tagovailoa was used to in college. He gets his former receiver from Alabama in Waddle, who is particularly good at using his quickness to create space and make plays. He is a perfect fit for Tagovailoa and this offense.
19. Washington Football Team: Dillon Radunz, OL, North Dakota State University
We could see two North Dakota State players make their way into the first round in 2021. Radunz possesses ideal size for the offensive tackle position in the NFL but has some room to develop and grow. For that reason, Radunz spent some time on the interior of the offensive line during Senior Bowl, where he was voted the player of the week. The Football Team should look to re-sign guard Brandon Scherrif this offseason and Radunz can take snaps on the inside before moving to the outside when he is ready.
20. Chicago Bears: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
The Bears have been in search of a quarterback even before missing on Mitch Trubisky. While Mac Jones isn’t exactly what the doctor ordered, the Bears choose to pull the trigger on Jones here, despite his lack of strong athletic traits. If nothing more, the Bears can at least create more intense competition for the starting quarterback job between Trubisky, Nick Foles and the rookie Jones.
21. Indianapolis Colts: Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan
While the Colts’ quarterback search continues, they choose to replace the retiring offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo with the athletic Mayfield. Indianapolis continues to pursue acquiring a quarterback in the offseason, perhaps from the Jets or Eagles. Whoever is at quarterback will have two bookend tackles protecting him.
22. Tennessee Titans: Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
The Titans nab one of the best edge-rushers in the draft with Ojulari, a big, athletic nine-technique rusher who will complement the Titans’ defense well. With Ojulari, Jeffrey Simmons and Harold Landry attacking the passer from each side, offensive coordinators will have to account for more space and havoc in the passing game. Getting to the quarterback is almost as important as having a quarterback and the Titans put themselves in a good position to continue competing and fighting for an AFC title.
23. New York Jets (via Seattle): Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas
A nine-technique edge-rusher, Ossai will be a fine addition to Robert Saleh’s defense in New York. The Jets have more needs than any team in the NFL but they have players in place who can build on top of additional talent. Ossai being added to this Jets team opens up the potential for defensive tackle Quinnen Williams to have more opportunities as a pass-rusher on the inside. The addition of another edge-rusher in free agency should also help maximize Williams and the trio can be the beginning of a strong Saleh defense in New York.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Spencer Brown, OT, Northern Iowa
The Steelers are going to begin to shed the “old guard” with free agents leaving and with other players considering retirement. Offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva is on the outs and will need a replacement. Expect a lot of change in Pittsburgh after such a crushing end to the season; one of the best places to add to is the offensive line. Steelers fans will love Brown, a six-foot-eight tackle prospect who has room to add weight to his frame. He follows the Mekhi Becton mold of getting the biggest, meanest possible tackle and letting him bully defenders.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Los Angeles Rams): Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia
After getting the heir to Jacksonville in Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars should look to build their defense. Stokes adds athleticism to the secondary to pair with the already athletic and promising CJ Henderson. Getting two long-term solutions in the secondary will allow the Jaguars to focus on helping Josh Allen along the defensive line in the rest of the draft.
26. Cleveland Browns: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
The Browns are close to being real contenders. They could use help at the linebacker position and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is a great addition as a linebacker and as a “defensive weapon.” Similar to Isaiah Simmons last year, “JOK” can defend the pass and lay the wood as a linebacker, which opens up the defensive coordinator’s creativity. Having a player such as this caliber elevates the defense as a whole and the Browns can prepare for another shot at the AFC title.
27. Baltimore Ravens: Terrace Marshall, WR, LSU
The Ravens need a number-one wide receiver beyond Marquise Brown. While ‘Hollywood’ offers that take-the-top-off-your-defense speed, he has been an inconsistent receiver. Lamar Jackson is a solid passer, just look at his work with his tight ends. In the modern NFL, if you can have a mobile quarterback making plays to good receivers, your offense can be lethal. The Ravens have the weapons at every position except at receiver, and Marshall has the size and athleticism to be dangerous in this offense.
28. New Orleans Saints: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
The Saints are going to work their way back down the food chain very steadily after this season, mostly as a result of their resource allocation up to this point. The Saints have pushed as much as they can to maximize quarterback Drew Brees and they did, without earning a Super Bowl since 2010. The Saints are projected to be $100 million OVER the salary cap and they will begin to shed contracts at an alarming rate. They already invested in their running back position and tied long-term money to Alvin Kamara, which was a mistake for the long-term interests of a team strapped for cash. The Saints should look to add draft capital and pick the best players available at every pick for the next couple of years, until a roster is built as a result. Collins is the best player available here for the long-term build and he’s an excellent SAM linebacker who will turn some heads come football Sundays.
29. Green Bay Packers: Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
Packers fans have talked about it all season long but the Packers need to invest in Aaron Rodgers as much as possible while they still have him. This begins with giving him players to throw the ball to whose name isn’t Davante Adams. To make the most of Adams and Rodgers, the Packers can add a matchup nightmare like Toney, whose special burst, contact balance and lateral movement abilities can make him a terror in the open field. Giving Rodgers a number one receiver in Adams and a dangerous Swiss-army-knife in Toney will maximize the offense, while it still has one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game.
30. Buffalo Bills: Alijah Vera-Tucker, iOL, USC
The Bills don’t have very many needs on their roster but they could look to build on their interior offensive line. Ohio State’s Wyatt Davis would be a strong contender here but his injury at the end of the National Championship lowers him on NFL team boards. Enter Vera-Tucker, an interior lineman who is only a step behind Davis and at this point, a safer prospect to help protect quarterback Josh Allen.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
A late-riser in draft discussions, Jenkins replaces Donovan Smith in this scenario. Smith has been the weak point on this Buccaneers’ offensive line and the team can save $14.25 million by releasing or trading him. That money can then be used to re-sign pending free agents on the defensive side of the ball like Ndamukong Suh, Shaquil Barrett and Levonte David. The Buccaneers were already looking to potentially upgrade from Smith and they can maneuver this offseason in a way that protects Tom Brady better and maintains their super bowl window with their strong defense.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: Creed Humphrey, iOL, Oklahoma
The Chiefs are an offensive powerhouse unlike anything seen in the NFL before. Where they are weakest is on the interior of their offensive line. Humphrey has been a standout prospect all cycle long and would be a nice injection of youth and talent on the inside to help protect quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs could look to get another receiving talent like Rashod Bateman of Minnesota here but after extending Mahomes and committing hundreds of millions of dollars to him, they’ll rely on his talent and invest in protecting him in round one.