⇐ My Mock Drafts
PFF's 2021 NFL Mock Draft - 12.29.2020
Published at 1/1/2021 4:45:29 PM
Only the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks are set in stone as we approach Week 17 of the 2020 NFL season, but the projected 2021 NFL Draft order still presents ample opportunity to attack storylines and narratives as we approach the offseason. The Atlanta Falcons could be in a position to take the heir apparent to veteran quarterback Matt Ryan. The Cincinnati Bengals may reunite former LSU wideout Ja’Marr Chase with Joe Burrow if they’re indeed out of the Penei Sewell sweepstakes. The Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers could swing the bat on first-round quarterbacks despite drafting outside the top 10. Below is a 2021 NFL Mock Draft based on the current projected draft order that doesn’t project what I think teams will do but instead should do if I were making the picks for all 32 NFL teams.
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This is a no-brainer decision for the Jags. PFF's lead draft analyst, Mike Renner, wrote recently that Lawrence “is truly the type of prospect who comes around only once in a generation.” Jacksonville can sprint the card in with confidence.
Renner also recently compared BYU signal-caller Zach Wilson and Ohio State’s Justin Fields in an article for PFF.com, in which he said:
“The only way I’d go Fields over Wilson is if I had an offensive coordinator who needed a rushing threat at the quarterback position. Otherwise, Fields' issues with holding onto the ball combined with Wilson’s elite off-platform ability and arm talent ultimately gives the BYU quarterback the nod.”
PFF’s Seth Galina also praised Wilson in his article comparing the former Cougars quarterback to another significant pre-draft riser in Joe Burrow, calling out Wilson’s notable arm talent as a key separator between the two prospects. And no quarterback in college football has a higher grade than Wilson in 2020.
While some Jets fans are encouraged by what Sam Darnold has shown in flashes throughout his three-year NFL career, the former USC standout simply hasn’t shown enough to warrant passing on a talent like Wilson at No. 2 overall.
If the Dolphins’ front office feels that Fields or Wilson is a better quarterback prospect than Tua Tagovailoa and one of the two 2021 prospects falls to them at No. 3, the decision should be to swing the bat again and take another quarterback in the first round. It’s really that simple.
No, Tagovailoa hasn’t played enough to make a decision on his NFL prospects — he’s earned a 63.0 PFF grade across just 265 NFL dropbacks. But if Miami isn’t confident that Tagovailoa is a better prospect than Fields, Wilson or even NDSU’s Trey Lance, the team should pass on Oregon’s Penei Sewell, decide on whether to trade Tagovailoa for draft compensation and take a quarterback at No. 3 overall.
With Lawrence and Wilson already off the board in this mock draft, I opt for Sewell over Fields and Lance because I’m still a bit more confident in Tagovailoa over those two quarterback prospects. Sewell is a generational offensive tackle prospect who earned PFF grades in 2019 that we’ve never seen from an underclassman in the PFF College era (2014-20). However, if I could trade in this mock draft, I’d look to trade back here. It’s also a close call between Fields and Sewell, not an obvious decision either way.
No non-quarterback picked at No. 4 overall in 2021 will take Falcons from a four-win team to a Super Bowl contender with a 36-year-old Matt Ryan under center and on the books for more than $80M in 2021 and 2022 combined. I’m sorry. So, even if the Falcons’ front office is still confident in going the distance with Ryan, adding an heir apparent at the quarterback position with the — ideally — rare opportunity they have drafting inside the top five should be an easy decision.
PFF’s 10th-ranked signal-caller in terms of passing grade in 2020, Ryan offers trade value if Atlanta’s brass can find a suitor or can continue to start ahead of a rookie quarterback with what should at least be an improved coaching situation and two top-flight wide receivers (Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley).
Fields has his fair share of concerns as a prospect, but he’s still the No. 3 overall player on PFF’s board and the first-ranked college quarterback in terms of PFF passing grade over the past two seasons (2019-20).
A Burrow-Chase reunion is in order for Cincinnati if they do indeed fall out of the Sewell sweepstakes. The former LSU wideout is currently PFF’s No. 1 wide receiver and No. 5 overall player in the 2021 class. He also earned the third-ranked PFF receiving grade (91.3) in college football at just 19 years of age as a true sophomore in 2019.
The Eagles are somewhat screwed at the quarterback position. Even if they draft as high as sixth in the 2021 NFL Draft, it’s likely the top three quarterback prospects (Lawrence, Wilson, Fields) are already off the board. They’re also still tied to veteran Carson Wentz’s monster contract unless they can find a trade suitor in the offseason. And while rookie Jalen Hurts has shown flashes of competence as the team’s starter, he’s still one of the lowest-graded quarterbacks over the past three weeks (Weeks 14-16) and largely a project at the position.
Hurts and Wentz will likely duke it out in camp to compete for the starting nod just to play for an offense that lacks depth and high-end talent across the board. Targeting one of the best non-quarterbacks in the draft at higher positional value than off-ball linebacker (sorry Micah Parsons stans) at No. 6 overall makes the most sense for Philly.
Waddle is arguably a better receiver prospect than Henry Ruggs III was coming out of Alabama in 2020. An explosive, dynamic athlete, Waddle ranks inside the top five in yards per route run (3.64) and yards after the catch per reception (11.5) over the past two seasons.
Even if the Lions re-sign soon-to-be unrestricted free agents Kenny Golladay (27), Marvin Jones (31) and/or Danny Amendola (35), the team still needs more talent at wide receiver. Smith should finish the year with the highest single-season receiving grade in the PFF College era (2014-20) and currently ranks 12th overall on PFF’s 2021 NFL Draft Board.
New York has needs nearly across the board, including offensive line, edge defender, wide receiver and off-ball linebacker. Paye is a rare athlete that won’t last deep into the first round if he does test as well as expected at the 2021 NFL Scouting Combine. He also has the fourth-best PFF pass-rush win rate (26%) of any Power 5 edge defender in the country.
After firing GM Marty Hurney in late December, the new Panthers regime will need to make the decision to either build around Teddy Bridgewater and his $23M cap hit in 2021 or look to make an upgrade at the position this offseason. If they’re indeed drafting at No. 9 overall, the prospects of Lance, Alabama’s Mac Jones or Florida’s Kyle Trask might not be enough for the front office to draft a rookie quarterback over Parsons.
The former Penn State off-ball linebacker is currently PFF’s sixth-ranked prospect on the 2021 NFL Draft board. Parsons also finished the 2019 season as the highest-graded off-ball linebacker (91.6).
The Broncos are in a tough spot. John Elway & Co. threw the kitchen sink at adding offensive weapons (Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler) for second-year quarterback Drew Lock in a prove-it year, and now Lock will enter Week 17 as PFF’s 28th-ranked quarterback in terms of passing grade (60.8). While it’s obvious the Broncos should pursue an upgrade over Lock, adding a clear-cut upgrade without a top-five pick will be difficult.
Elway may chase veteran quarterbacks on the trade market (Carr, Wentz, Garoppolo, Ryan, Stafford), but if he can’t find a price point he likes, Lance could be his best option at No. 10 overall. The former NDSU standout is a toolsy prospect with a lot of the measurables (size, athleticism, arm strength) talent evaluators look to target and develop at the quarterback position.
Drafting a tight end early in the first round isn’t great from a positional value perspective, but Pitts doesn’t just play tight end. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound Florida Gator currently owns one of the highest PFF grades in the country regardless of position (96.2) while playing 261 offensive snaps at inline tight end, 79 at slot receiver and 69 at wide receiver. Not even the Cowboys have enough weapons on offense to warrant passing on Pitts at No. 11.
Currently PFF’s top-ranked cornerback and No. 14 overall player in the 2021 class, Farley is a fluid athlete with all the tools necessary to dominate at outside cornerback in the NFL. Before opting out of the 2020 season and declaring for the draft, the 6-foot-2, 207-pound Farley earned a 90.5 PFF coverage grade that ranked third among Power 5 cornerbacks in 2019.
Even when Danielle Hunter returns from injury, Minnesota will have a need at edge defender. Veterans Ifeadi Odenigbo and Jalyn Holmes and rookie D.J. Wonnum have all earned sub-61.0 PFF grades through Week 16. The Vikings also rank 32nd in the NFL in quarterback pressure percentage at 21.6%.
Rousseau is far from a polished prospect, but the former Miami (Fla.) defender is a high-end athlete with ridiculous size and length for the position (6-foot-6, 260 pounds). He earned a 76.2 PFF grade playing up and down the line of scrimmage for the Hurricanes in 2019 and can immediately step in as a chess piece in Zimmer’s defense while he develops his pass-rushing skill set.
The Cam Newton experiment has not panned out in New England. Through Week 16, he ranks just 26th in PFF passing grade (67.1). Jones is currently outperforming Tua in what is still a loaded ‘Bama offense and currently ranks second behind BYU’s Wilson in PFF grade (95.3) among all FBS quarterbacks.
Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, K'Wuan Williams and Ahkello Witherspoon will all test free agency if they aren't re-signed before March 2021. Surtain is a big, instinctive outside cornerback prospect that should push Farley for CB1 in the 2021 class by the time April comes around. Surtain leads all college cornerbacks with at least 400 defensive snaps played in PFF grade (87.0) in 2020.
Draft need is irrelevant for Las Vegas. Every level of the defense could use an upgrade, the wide receiver position still lacks consistency and the offensive line is older/consistently battling injuries. Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah should be one of the best players available to Mike Mayock & Co. if they’re indeed drafting at No. 16 in April’s draft. JOK is a high-end athlete who can actually hold his own in coverage, an ever-elusive trait for the Raiders’ defense for the last decade-plus.