With the regular season wrapping up last Sunday, NFL draft season has officially kicked it up a notch. The NFL draft will dominate the conversation among sports talk for the next three 1/2 months. This will be the first of many mock draft Mondays between now and and April 29th, the first night of the NFL Draft. There are sure to be many changes from today until then.
These early mock drafts can be a bit harder to nail down. Since free agency has not occurred and there have not been any trades leading up to the draft. Still, early mock drafts are all about speculating about potential fits amongst teams many needs and seeing which guys could be potential risers on draft.
With that being said, there will not be any trades in my first mock. Here is my first mock draft of the year.
1) Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
The first pick of the 2021 NFL Draft will also be the easiest. Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence is one of the best prospects at the quarterback position to come out in quite some time and he has everything that you want in a top quarterback prospect. His arm strength is incredible, accuracy is pinpoint, his athleticism is very underrated and his ability to read the field quickly is elite.
The Jaguars hired former college coach Urban Meyer as the team’s next head coach. His first pick as an NFL head coach is expected to be one of the most prized prospects to ever come out.
2) New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
This pick may come as a surprise to some, but I think that BYU QB Zach Wilson could be the preferred quarterback over Justin Fields.
Fields had an incredible game against Clemson, but he has had some struggles that could be alarming to NFL teams. Wilson has probably done more than any player to raise his stock after an impressive 2020 season.
Wilson is lighter than some other top quarterback prospects. Still, most NFL Teams will likely covet his ability to throw the ball downfield and make plays out of nothing.
The Jets may keep this pick and build around Sam Darnold or they may prefer Fields. However, I think the Jets will inevitably select Wilson due to his potential and upside.
3) Miami Dolphins (Via Houston): Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
There are a lot of different directions that the Miami Dolphins could go with this pick. Miami could opt to upgrade their offensive line with Penei Sewell. Upgrading the skill position talent around Tua Tagovailoa takes precedent with their first of two picks in the first round. Ja’Marr Chase was the best receiver in college football when he played for LSU in their magical championship season in 2019. Chase is an exceptional route runner with a great pair of hands that can reel in any pass. It is close, but I still have Ja’Marr Chase as the top receiver in the draft over Devonta Smith.
4) Atlanta Falcons: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
The Atlanta Falcons are at a bit of an interesting crossroads. Atlanta can either draft a QB for the future with this fourth pick or find help on the defensive side of the football. I think the Falcons can afford to take a QB here because doing so will help give way to life after Matt Ryan. They could elect to go with a defensive player like Micah Parsons or Patrick Surtain II.
Still, Fields has so much talent and will be better served by sitting for at least one season behind Ryan and learning from new head coach Arthur Smith. This is a pick for the future and it could give the Falcons a chance to rebuild quickly whenever they decide to move on from Ryan.
5) Cincinnati Bengals: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
If the board falls this way, this would be the easiest pick in the draft to project besides Lawrence to Jacksonville. The Bengals found their franchise QB in Joe Burrow last offseason. Now they need to prioritize surrounding him with better protection up front.
Sewell is one of the top tackle prospects to come out in recent seasons and is only twenty years old. He is an excellent pass protector and a mauler in the run game that will be the face of the Cincinnati offensive line for years to come.
6) Philadelphia Eagles: Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama
The Eagles could go a few different ways with this pick. Improving the receiving corps for whoever is starting under center next season should be their top priority. Both Carson Wentz and Jalen Hurts need better targets to throw to, as Alshon Jeffrey and DeSean Jackson are unlikely to return next season. JJ Arcega-Whiteside has been a disappointment since being drafted in 2019 and Jalen Reagor had an injury filled 2020 season.
Devonta Smith became the first wide receiver Heisman winner since Desmond Howard in 1991. Smith is a masterful route runner with great body control and bodily adjustment to make tough catches. His biggest downside is his slight frame, but he is just so good at everything else.
7) Detroit Lions: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Detroit is in rebuilding mode after firing Matt Patricia and their General Manager as well. After trading away Matthew Stafford to the Rams, quarterback is a possibility here. With Jared Goff now under center, I think that the Lions will roll with him for at least one season.
If that is the case, then I would expect Detroit to give a lot of consideration to a wide receiver. I think that Jaylen Waddle is the most dynamic receiver on the board and his game changing speed will be a welcome sight to the offense. Detroit is likely to lose Kenny Golladay in free agency, so a receiver here makes a lot of sense.
8) Carolina Panthers: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Carolina had a solid first season under head coach Matt Rhule and have a solid foundation in place for the future of the franchise. The one spot where the Panthers have some uncertainty is quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater is a solid stop gap option for now, but the franchise will need a more talented signal caller. Lance fits the bill.
While he only has one full season of film, Lance was fantastic while playing for the FCS powerhouse North Dakota State. Lance is very skilled as both a runner and a passer. Putting Lance with a talented group of receivers and Christian McCaffrey could work wonders for this franchise.
9) Denver Broncos: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Denver had a bit of an up and down season in 2020 that was focused on Drew Lock and the offense taking that next step. In 2021, the focus should be on the defense and rebuilding it to where it was just a few years ago.
Denver could elect to go with a corner here, but a run of quarterbacks and receivers allowed the most versatile defender in the draft to fall to them. Micah Parsons is one of the most versatile defenders to come out in a few years and can do so much for a defense. The former Nittany Lion can play in coverage while also being a relentless pass rusher on third down. Parsons can improve the Broncos defense while helping them make a playoff push in 2021.
10) Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
The Cowboys had an unexpected down season in 2020 that can be attributed to Dak Prescott’s season ending injury. Prescott’s injury also showed that the Cowboys have some holes in their roster that needs to be fixed before they become serious contenders.
The Cowboys could go with an offensive linemen here to help get Dak some protection or they could choose to upgrade a defense that was atrocious for much of the season. The secondary was not very good for the Cowboys last season. Fortunately a way to help fix that would be to draft the best CB available, Patrick Surtain II. Surtain is a long corner that is very fluid in coverage and he will be a huge upgrade for Dallas.
11: New York Giants: Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan
The Giants were close to making the playoffs this past season and, with a good offseason, will be right back in contention for a division championship. The Giants should hope that one of the elite receivers in this draft fall to them. In the case that they don’t, a pass rusher could be the top pick for the Giants.
The defense took a step forward this year, but the Giants still struggled to get a consistent pass rush. Kwity Paye should help fix that. Paye is an excellent athlete that can get around the edge and cause havoc on every snap.
12: San Francisco 49ers: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Ideally, the 49ers would like to land a QB here, but Caleb Farley is one of the best corners in the draft and should help boost an already elite defense. San Fransisco will likely be losing Richard Sherman this offseason and don’t have much youth at the corner position.
Farley is a ballhawk who adjusts well in coverage and is a really good athlete. His draft stock should not slip much despite sitting out this season.
13: Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
The Chargers could use help on the offensive line and they could pick a guy that is rising up the boards rather quickly. Rashawn Slater has become the favorite to be the second offensive tackle taken and he thrives as an excellent pass blocker. Chargers could go defense or Kyle Pitts, but protecting Herbert should be their top priority.