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2021 NFL Mock Draft by NoHeroes94 - V1 (14 January 2021)
Published at 1/18/2021 9:02:59 AM
My first 2021 mock draft. Many thanks to WF for featuring it on the home page! A lot will change in the coming weeks but wanted to get a pre-Super Bowl mock in!
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Do I really need to go into this one? Trevor Lawrence has been locked into the No. 1 pick for about 2 years. He's the best quarterback prospect in a couple of decades (even over Andrew Luck). Lawrence has very few weaknesses to his game. He possesses elite arm talent, football IQ, poise in the pocket and stellar character/leadership traits. The Jaguars might not have had the most esteemed history, but with Urban Meyer likely coaching Lawrence throughout his rookie contract, the Jaguars may one day become a force to be reckoned with. Like Luck, Lawrence has virtually no bust potential. WF may as well begin grading this pick now.
The Jets have a huge dilemma with this pick. On one hand, Sam Darnold is still talented, so it isn't out of the question the Jets either trade down or take DeVonta Smith/Ja'Marr Chase here (or trade down to take the player remaining). However, if you are drafting in the top-5 for 2 out of the 3 years since taking Darnold should indicate that he isn't the franchise QB the Jets were hoping for. I was a Darnold apologist for the first 2 years, as I thought he showcased a lot of talent even with some crushing lows, but the truth is, Darnold has not lived up to his potential at New York - not close. I don't think he's out of opportunities in the NFL (I feel he could have a Tannehill-esque option to thrive elsewhere), and New York hasn't given him much help on or off the field aside from drafting Mekhi Becton.
With Wilson and Fields available - two top-15 talents (arguably that's being pessimistic) the most logical thing would be to exercise Darnold's 5th year option and trade him for a 3rd round pick (or whatever they can get close to that), then take Wilson or Fields. I think both prospects have a lot of potential for the NFL. If it were me, I would prefer Fields, but current consensus appears to be that Zach Wilson is starting to eclipse Fields for the #2 QB honours.
I personally prefer both Trey Lance and Justin Fields to Zach Wilson but based on 2020 play its undeniable that Wilson's trajectory is higher. He is insanely talented and has the capability to make any throw you need in the NFL. He is also very athletic (if not a running QB by definition) and very precise so there is a lot to like with him. It’s believed he’ll interview well too as he is reported to have outstanding recall ability. Equally, out of the top 4 QB's likely to go in the 1st round, Wilson worries me the most. Level of competition is a slight concern, as is the fact that - despite a 3-year college career - Wilson has only really popped as a senior. He could end up being Josh Rosen 2.0 due to well documented personality issues, although I think Wilson is more likely to pan out as they are less related to work ethic and more to do with a grating personality. Due to his competitiveness and natural ability, Wilson could very well become an NFL leader/starter even with these aforementioned concerns. We’ll see.
Did you know that Bill O'Brien isn't actually hated everywhere? In Miami, they are currently erecting a 50-ft statue outside of Hard Rock Stadium, as a thank you for gifting the Dolphins the 3rd and 35th overall picks in the 2021 NFL Draft!
For me, Smith or Sewell has to be the first non-QB off the board. I would completely understand if the Dolphins kicked Jackson to RT, Hunt to LG/RG, and drafted Sewell as a franchise LT. He's a generational prospect, so I wouldn't be critical of them and would commend the move. However, DeVonta Smith - who I considered a solid #15-25 option for most of this draft process - has had an utterly ridiculous Heisman Trophy season - similar to Burrow's at the QB position in 2019 - and his familiarity with Tua Tagovailoa, I think the Dolphins would be foolish to pass on Smith here. A top need for Miami is at WR anyway, and Smith could take their offense to the next level. I also love Ja'Marr Chase, but given how proven Smith is as a prospect over a number of years, he is a slam dunk option as the 1st receiver taken now.
The Falcons have a lot of defensive needs, but I'm pretty sure that - sitting at #4 - the Falcons will move on from Matt Ryan in this draft. Firstly, for how bad they are, the Falcons' cap situation is putrid. As of the time of writing, only the Eagles and Saints have a worse cap situation. The Falcons are also not a perennial high drafting team, and with a new regime incoming they will likely want to move off the good but no longer great Matt Ryan, 36 years young.
Whilst he hasn't had a perfect final year in college (namely holding on to the ball way too long), Fields is an outstanding athlete who has done a lot this year to impress. He has the skill set of a top-10 drafted QB and has the Deshaun Watson brand of play hot in the NFL right now. His performance in the semi-final and getting hurt and still performing at a high level, should solidify this standing. Fields would be entering an excellent situation in Atlanta with 2-3 bonafide receiving threats and a solid offensive line with some high-capital investments put into it. Whoever drafts Fields will need to be patient, as his field vision and pocket awareness isn't where it needs to be just yet, but he possesses the core talent and the skill set you just can't teach at the next level.
The Bengals would win the draft if they were able to secure Sewell at #5. Their backup plan is probably to take Ja'Marr Chase - Burrow's elite #1 receiver in college - to replace A.J. Green and form a terrifying trio alongside Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. However, if both land here, they must take Sewell.
Outside of Lawrence, Sewell is the best player in this draft class. He sat out 2020 but in his 2 college years he was so dominant he won a Heisman vote...as an OT. He has been super consistent and elite edge protector, with great knee bending and athleticism to not let fast and twitchy rushers get past his reach. He's also very strong so can match his feet with his hand-work, and is very polished for a college player. Sewell could be the second coming of Anthony Munoz for a Bengals team who desperately need OL help. With Sewell at LT and Jonah Williams (the only impressive O-lineman in 2020) at RT, the Bengals' exterior offensive line could be sorted for 10+ years.
The Eagles were terrible in 2020, but fortunately for them, their position matches their needs nicely here. The Eagles could do one of two things here - take a receiver - be it Chase or Smith - or take Micah Parsons, as their linebacking corps is utterly dire. Neither would be criticised, as all 3 are elite prospects worthy of going in the top 10. However, in my opinion, Ja'Marr Chase is slightly more special player.
Chase entered the 2020 season as the consensus, irremovable #1 WR prospect. That changed in the wake of DeVonta Smith's breakout Heisman season, and will now likely be either the 1st or 2nd non-QB taken. Still, Chase is a blue-chip prospect with perennial Pro Bowl potential, so it would be hard to be disappointed with Chase being your 'consolation prize'. Chase was elite in 2019 and by far the best receiver in college football, even above those drafted in the 1st round last year. The majority had excellent rookie seasons, projecting well for the NFL, so the sky is the limited for Ja'Marr Chase. For the Eagles Chase is actually probably a better compliment for Reagor than Smith would be, so it's not impossible that - if somehow left with both options - they took Chase anyway.
The Lions could very well move on from Matt Stafford at #7. Similar to the Falcons, they are under-going a regime change with an aging QB. Granted, Stafford is still performing well and 3 years younger than Ryan, but he is also much more injury prone. I personally think if Wilson or Fields is available the Lions would pull the trigger. However, I don't think most teams would now take Lance in the top-10 (as good of a prospect as I think he is) due to his rawness and 1-year wonder status. Meanwhile, the Lions have glaring defensive needs within the front-seven, something they are feeling after drafting Okudah over Brown. I don’t think any defensive line prospect is good enough to go this high, so I instead have the Lions upgrading their linebacking corps with a ‘do it all’ defensive prospect – Micah Parsons.
Parsons sat out 2020, but make no mistake, he’s a special player. He is stellar in coverage and run support, and adept in pass rush too. He’s not as versatile as Isaiah Simmons was last year, but projects as a more talented pure linebacker. I think Parsons would have been a top-10 player in 2019, and I don’t think enough defensive prospects have done enough to stand out and knock his projection out of the top-10 in this year’s draft either. A backup option at this spot is Chase or Smith, if either fall out of the top 6 (very possible if the Eagles opt for Parsons) as their receiving corps is both aging and likely to lose Kenny Golladay.
This pick isn't really about need (the Panthers have some need for a Tight End since the departure of Greg Olson, but I suppose one couldn't class it as an egregious one). Instead, this pick is more about Pitts as a player. Kyle Pitts is as special of a Tight End prospect I have seen enter the NFL in some time. He is a better prospect than TJ Hockenson, Noah Fant and OJ Howard - all going in the top-to-middle of the 1st round in their respective drafts.
Of all players selected thus far, Pitts is the most nightmarish. Pitts catches like a wide receiver, is a quality blocker, is too fast linebackers and too strong for safeties. Pitts is an utter mismatch nightmare, and as a supreme receiving tight end in the vain of Kittle/Kelce/Waller will be a very hot commodity in the NFL. Pitts solidified himself as a high-1st rounder after his ridiculous 2020 season, and the Panthers - after having a very much needed defensive draft in 2020 - can spare a premium pick for a hot offensive weapon. Moore, Pitts and McCaffery would figure to be one of the most formidable offensive trios in the NFL.
The Broncos' defense hasn't been the same in recent years. They have a pair of excellent rushing linebackers in Chubb and Miller, but Miller is aging and has had injuries. Thus, if available, it wouldn't shock me if the Broncos took Parsons. He has the versatility to play MIKE if they decide to retain Miller, and could also be his eventual successor. However, on my board he's gone by now, so they could look to their next position of weakness - cornerback.
AJ Bouye has been okay in Denver, but he definitely isn't a true lockdown corner. The Broncos are really missing Chris Harris and could do with a true #1 option. Surtain II is a bit like Byron Jones for the Dolphins as a prospect, insofar that he isn't overly productive in picks, but his presence is so disruptive and is so athletic that it completely shuts off high-ranking receivers for the opposition. Shutting down receivers in this way will be incredibly important in a division with Tyreek Hill, Henry Ruggs and Mike Williams, so Surtain would be a top target for me if I was Denver. Surtain has solidified himself as - comfortably - the best CB in this draft class in my opinion, playing extremely well in 2020.
The Cowboys defence stank in 2020. Trevon Diggs showed some great potential as a 2nd round steal, but aside from that, Diggs had no help. Thus, I could see a premium pick spent on a CB once again - Surtain, if available, would be a prime candidate here as Diggs' former teammate. Caleb Farley is another option. However, I would say the Cowboys pass rush is in desperate need of an injection of youth, with their primary options at their position are thin and consist almost exclusively of aging experienced veterans or players on short-term deals (you could possibly add Anae to the mix, but he's unproven). The Cowboys were reportedly due to draft K'Lavon Chaisson until CeeDee Lamb inexplicably fell to their lap (perhaps that was for the best, as Chaisson was terrible as a rookie), so may be keen to make a higher-upside pick in Rousseau.
Rousseau arguably made a big mistake opting out of this season. Had he opted into to 2020 and had another stellar season, Rousseau would likely be a top-5 pick. Granted, there would be risk to him skipping the year too. As it stands, he's a very talented and productive edge rusher but also very raw. Modern NFL trends lean to raw but athletic players having a ton more success in the NFL than in the past (Tristan Wirfs, DK Metcalf, etc.) so I would be comfortable with Dallas taking Rousseau here. The other area they could feasibly look to address is their OL as it is no where near as strong as it was 2-3 years ago.
The Giants traded Odell Beckham Jr. 2 years ago, and in that time, they've never really replaced him. Darius Slayton was a nice Day 3 find, but he's really more of a No. 2 receiver. Much like Sam Darnold, Daniel Jones hasn't had many options to throw to in his young career, and although he has more pressing issues, the Giants would be wasting his rookie contract not giving him a more premium option to stretch defences with.
Entering the draft process, most people - including myself - saw a higher ceiling for Jaylen Waddle compared to DeVonta Smith. Smith, of course, ended up being the best player in the country in 2020, whereas Waddle got hurt mid-season, so that narrative has slightly changed. However, Waddle's stock shouldn't fall too much because a lot of teams were really impressed at his speed and more polished route running, and his injury was early enough where I should fully recover for the season opener. I usually worry about pure speed receivers, but Waddle has better hands and is a more rounded receiver than Henry Ruggs was in 2020. In limited action in 2020, Waddle was extremely impressive and has solidified himself as a top-20 pick in April in my (not expert) opinion.
For full disclosure, I am an avid 49ers fan, but I will try to remain as unbiased as possible here. The 2020 season was clearly a huge disappointment, but a lot of that was injury related. Still two things are blatantly apparent; 1) The 49ers need a lot of secondary help (especially since, technically, every single CB is a free agent!) and 2) Jimmy Garropolo will always give the 49ers a lower ceiling to work with. 2019 was a testament to great coaching and ridiculously talented defense, with everything just going right and Jimmy G being 'good enough' to hold the team to the championship game. Ultimately, if everything else isn't clicking, Jimmy G will struggle.
In reality, this is probably going to be a cornerback selection. I would commend a selection of either Surtain or Farley (trading down for Jaycee Horn is another option). Lynch has also publicly said that "right now" he doesn't "anticipate" a 1st round QB selection, but has stipulated a lot can change.
However, if Trey Lance falls to here, I don't see why the 49ers wouldn't chance their arm. The 49ers front office has a lot of security and Lance is so insanely gifted. There are also a plethora of really solid cornerbacks on Day 2, and the 49ers now hold 3 picks on Day 2 thanks to Saleh being hired by the NY Jets, so they have a lot more flexibility with this pick now.
As a prospect, Lance might not have the level of competition of Fields or Lawrence, but he has an insanely strong skill set synonymous with 1st round QB's who have had success within their rookie deals. He's also hyper mobile and a very talented passer with good ball security. I believe San Francisco would be the perfect place for Lance, who is admittedly raw, where he could work with Shanahan and a solid coaching staff - and likely not need to be rushed onto the field Day 1.
The Chargers were a better team than their 7-9 record dictates. They are in one of the toughest divisions in football and were very competitive in the majority of their games. As such, I think firing Anthony Lynn was a very boneheaded decision from a usually sharp franchise. Still, the Chargers will need to try and support their stud franchise QB with a strong new coaching staff and an improved offensive line. Along the interior there have been improvements, but there is still a gaping hole at Left Tackle.
Enter Christian Darrisaw, a prospect who was arguably had the best 2020 of any tackle in the entire country. Darrisaw is reportedly a love-hate prospect according to WF reports I trust, but Darrisaw's projection is so high I'd be shocked if he fell below high 2nd round as his draft stock is red hot on the back of winning the Outland Trophy. I am a fan due to his size and pass protection prowess, so would be more than fine with a mid-1st round selection on him.
The Vikings' self-deprecating dedication to Kirk Cousins have given them some contractual issues that will be really hard to shed, and I can see them being in".500 purgatory" for some time. That being said, the Vikings can be successful with Cousins with a strong pass defense and better offensive line play, as their offensive weapons are outstanding (Jefferson, Thielen, Cook).
Either is a very feasible investment for the Vikings – however, in my opinion there is better OL depth than DL depth in this class. Danielle Hunter is a superb player on one side but is injury prone, and they traded Yannick Ngaouke just 6 weeks after acquiring him, so it would be prudent of them to draft a cheap young compliment to Hunter and Wonnum on the edge to get some heat on Rodgers. I am definitely not as high on Paye as others are (I personally prefer Basham Jr.) His lack of production is concerning; I also think he’s not overly technically proficient in his pass rush moves, nor flexible in bending past exterior blockers. However, the current consensus seems to be that Paye is the more premium prospect due to his supreme burst of the line and block shedding and would be an ample compliment to Hunter.
The Patriots defense was a shadow of its former self. It's pass rush was particularly soft, with Chase Winovich - a talented 3rd rounder from 2019 - leading the team with just 5.5 sacks. The team could also do with improving its lacklustre run defense. In my opinion, Barmore would be the perfect prospect in improving both aspects of their defensive line.
Barmore is a very talented interior lineman, with supreme pass rushing ability for a non-edge player. He plays with similar tenacity to Aaron Donald and Fletcher Cox (albeit not being quite as talented as either), and his ability to pressure the quarterback with interior pressure is a hugely sought after commodity in the NFL. His run defense isn't as advanced, but he visibly improved in this regard - almost by the game - in 2020, so I think Barmore has a chance of going in the 15-25 range. I'm bullish of him as he is - by far - the best defensive tackle prospect in this class, and would be a profound improvement for the Patriots. They also desperately need offensive weaponry, but this can be dealt with on Day 2 if needed.
The Cardinals improved a lot in 2020, and were unlucky to finish 8-8. One thing that is apparent, though, is that their pass defense still needs a lot of worth. Byron Murphy is improving but not a true lockdown corner, and Patrick Peterson is likely to leave very soon. Elsewhere, the Cardinals have virtually nothing at CB.
The Cardinals have two bonafide options here in Caleb Farley and Jaycee Horn. The latter did a lot to prove himself in 2020, and has entered the 1st round conversation. However, I think that Farley is the most physically gifted CB in this class (including Surtain). Farley is famous for being the first high-end prospect to opt out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19, and this hurts his stock, as despite a stellar 2019 there are durability and consistency questions with him. Despite this, I think his physical skill-set and ability to avoid seperation will allow him to become a very strong NFL starter. Similar to Rousseau, any raw elements to his game are outweighed by his pure athletic ability, and Farley is far more polished than other 1st rounders who were selected in recent drafts. Farley would be a great addition for the Cardinals, and a potential replacement for Patrick Peterson when the time comes.