Every year, the draft community digs into team fit, breaks down talent; we even call around and try to figure out what NFL teams are thinking. Yet, even after all that work, we still end up shocked by picks that come completely out of left field. Sometimes those picks work out, sometimes they don’t but they happen every. Single. Year. This year I set out to examine possibilities for those “left field” picks for the 2021 NFL Draft.
In this exercise, I decided to buck consensus and examine a pick for each team that no one is currently projecting, but could actually happen. Today we’ll focus on the top 10 but we will go further through the draft each week.
1) Jacksonville Jaguars: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
I told you this would be fun. Trevor Lawrence is 99.99% likely to be the first pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. Nothing is 100% certain though. The only pick that is even within the realm of possibility is Justin Fields. Here’s why, Justin Fields was coached by new Head Coach Urban Meyer’s former offensive coordinator at Ohio State, Ryan Day, and would likely have a more direct line of information on Fields than any other prospect. This is still highly unlikely, but if any prospect is taken here other than Trevor Lawrence….it will be Justin Fields.
2) New York Jets: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
This one is contrarian only because I’ve never read a mock draft where Lawrence falls this far. If it happens then there is a 0 percent chance that the draft card isn’t turned in near-record time.
3) Miami Dolphins: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
I know the idea of taking a WR here isn’t exactly contrarian. Rather, it’s the selection of Waddle rather than Heisman Winner Devonta Smith or LSU’s Jamarr Chase that may spark a bit of ire but should it? Looking at the 2020 Miami Dolphins, what they seem to be lacking is an explosive element. There is no one more explosive with or without the ball than Waddle. He’s not the best player but could be the best fit.
4) Atlanta Falcons: Gregory Rousseau, Edge, Miami
I’ve seen the Falcons address a number of needs with this pick in Mocks. They have holes in their secondary that badly need to be filled they have holes everywhere except QB and WR and some have argued for this pick to get younger in those positions. Addressing a pass rush that only produced 29 sacks last season would be a great way to use this pick. The issue is that most draft analysts don’t have a single prospect with a top 15 grade.
Enter Rousseau. Rousseau is a prospect with sky-high potential, who is young (20), already productive (15.5 sacks in 2019), but is a bit raw and could take a year to adjust to the NFL after opting out of 2020 due to covid. Many have moved Rousseau down to 2nd or 3rd in this edge class, but NFL teams covet athletic 6 foot 7 inch 265lbs with productive seasons on their resumes. Especially when you consider that the leading pass rusher in Atlanta had 4.5 sacks. Of all of my picks, this one feels the most likely.
5) Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
The Consensus has the Bengals selecting OT Penei Sewell or WR Jamarr Chase with this pick. I personally believe that Sewell is the most likely scenario. In either case, most analysts seem to believe this pick should and will be spent supporting 2019 1st overall pick, Joe Burrow.
Pitts could offer a better option than Chase for Burrow if they decide to go get him another weapon. I know the magic they created at LSU together makes that sound crazy but let’s not forget the Bengals already have an emerging young star at WR in Tee Higgins and a talented WR2 in Tyler Boyd. What Burrow doesn’t have is a dynamic weapon over the middle. Pitts provides that in spades. When you consider the concerns over Burrow’s arm strength, a big weapon over the middle may have a ton of value.
*note: The Bengals haven’t had a TE with more than 500 receiving yards since 2015*
6) Philadelphia Eagles: Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan
Sewell, Chase, or Patrick Surtain II from Alabama all make sense here and are the more consensus picks. The Eagles are also strong contenders for QB here. If you look at how the team likes to build, however, an aging defensive line could be what the front office decides to address first. Paye is a dynamic athlete and would be a key cog in the Eagles reset.
7) Detroit Lions: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
Most have written off the possibility of the Lions taking a QB after trading for Jared Goff. Most have also written off the possibility that Wilson could fall to pick 7. The second statement holds much more water than the first. With an offensive staff, mostly good protection, and solid to very good weapons, Goff failed to maintain a high level of play. While we hope for his success why should we plan on it in Detroit, which has none of the luxuries he enjoyed in L.A.?
While I believe Lance would be considered if Wilson is gone, I believe the Lions sprint to turn in their draft card. Wilson could unseat Goff by mid-season.
8) Carolina Panthers: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
Quarterback is both the sexy pick and the likely pick here. Lance is on the board and is a great fit. Sewell however is the best player on the board, and the best Carolina Tackle, Taylor Moton is a UFA. What’s unlikely is a player like Sewell falling out of the top 5 but if he does, he becomes the top pick for every team until he’s selected.
9) Denver Broncos: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
The Broncos absolutely need help at Corner. There are two guys (Surtain and Farley) that are consistently mocked here but there is a 3rd corner with a first-round grade who very well could be the pick here, Jaycee Horn. Horn is a better athlete than Surtain and doesn’t have the injury history that Farley does. If all three guys have similar grades, don’t be surprised if it’s the former Gamecock for John Elway’s Broncos in the 2021 NFL Draft.
10) Dallas Cowboys: Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
My friends in Cowboys nation may run me out of town for this. Surtain and Sewell are the top targets in Dallas (at least among draftniks) but don’t be surprised if the Team opts to address the defensive line early. Barmore might be a reach, but he’s an absolute monster in the middle for a team that gave up…. (checks notes)…. 158.8 rushing yards per game.
I know… I know… Stopping the run doesn’t matter… I mean look at the Bucs they gave up..(Checks notes again)…oh.. 82.7 yards per game… Plugging that hole in the middle, while unlikely could very well be the actual pick and the right pick.
You can find my non-contrarian 2021 NFL Draft mock 1.0 here