The college football season kicked off this past week and though the power-five conferences are yet to play a game between them, football is officially back. This means the evaluation process has already started for the 2021 NFL Draft, and the mock draft industry.
Due to the way the global pandemic has affected football, the 2021 NFL Draft is going to be very interesting. Players have already begun dropping out of the upcoming NCAA football season including a number of first-round hopefuls. This could lead to one of the most inconsistent drafts in history. Usually, first edition mock drafts shakeout nowhere close to the way the draft order falls but with so many NFL general managers now forced to evaluate based on tape from the 2018/19 seasons, they will have no choice but to make decisions – for some players – based on football games played over 16 months prior to the 2021 draft.
With both the NFL and the three power-five conferences that will play the fall season kicking off their seasons this coming week, this is my first NFL mock draft of the 2020/21 season.
Week 1 NFL Mock Draft 2021
1. Carolina Panthers – Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) – Quarterback
There has not been a better prospect than Lawerence at any position since Andrew Luck. The Peyton Manning comparison may seem like overkill because it’s hard to compare anyone to one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, but the hype for Lawerence is warranted. He is able to make any throw demanded of a quarterback and has the legs to take off from the pocket at any moment. Quarterbacks with the precision of Lawerence aren’t supposed to add another 500+ yards on the ground. His numbers, outside of a few more interceptions were nearly identical from year-one to year-two, and with the ACC season going forward, should build on them with a great junior year. Whichever team finished 2021 at the bottom of the league can’t pass on this kid.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars – Justin Fields (Ohio State) – Quarterback
While Fields may seem like the less traditional of the two quarterbacks slated to go in the top-five of next year’s draft, he was actually a more efficient passer than Lawerence last season. Fields helped Ohio State roll through almost everyone they faced and did the majority of the damage with his arm as opposed to his legs. His 3,272 passing yards, 41 touchdowns, and 181.4 passing efficiency rating were all highs in the Big-10. Jacksonville has been a team that has not fully committed to a rebuild just yet but adding a quarterback like Fields could be the easiest way to quickly becoming a contender. Fields is accurate, big, strong, fast, and still improving.
3. Detroit Lions – Penei Sewell (Oregon) – Offensive Tackle
The Lions had a chance to take Tua Tagovailoa but instead opted for the ‘win now’ option in cornerback Jeffrey Okudah. This means that they like Matthew Stafford enough to keep him through an already obvious retooling. If Stafford falters in 2020, it likely won’t be due to his incompetence but rather lack of a supporting cast. Therefore, taking Sewell this early makes a lot of sense. He’s been debatably the best tackle in Division I since he was a freshman and would provide a long-term blindside solution for whoever is playing quarterback for the Lions in the future. It doesn’t look like Detroit is ready to commit to the tank so getting the best player available would be the smart pick at third overall — even it means kicking him or Taylor Decker to right tackle.
4. Washington Football Team – Patrick Surtain II (Alabama) – Cornerback
Outside of picking another defensive lineman, Washington needs to keep taking the best player available with their roster in its current state. Surtain should be the first cornerback taken in next year’s draft. He’s built like a prototypical shutdown corner at 6’2″ with long arms and a calm demeanor in coverage that allows him to always have a shot at making a play on the ball. Surtain recorded more tackles (42), pass defense (seven), interceptions (two), and forced fumbles (three) in fewer games as a sophomore than he did as a freshman. Now the true number-one corner for the Tide, he has the chance to secure his top-five status playing against SEC competition in 2020.
5. New York Giants – Ja’Marr Chase (LSU) – Wide Receiver [OPTED OUT]
There’s a good chance the Giants end up near the bottom of the league again in 2021 and if they do, should heavily consider taking a quarterback. For the time being, they are committed to Daniel Jones, and giving him weapons could be necessary for his growth. Chase was the best receiver in college football last year, leading all receivers in the NCAA in each receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. There isn’t a catch he can’t make and there were almost no corners he couldn’t beat in 2019 — many of them being drafted highly in last year’s draft. Chase plays far above his size and his ability to create yards after the catch is deadly.
6. Miami Dolphins – Micah Parsons (Penn State) – Linebacker [OPTED OUT]
The Dolphins rebuild is off to a nice start but they still need to look straight ahead and continue to simply add good players. Linebacker may be losing a little positional value in the modern NFL but Parsons could be a special player at the next level. He excels in almost all aspects of the game — racking up 109 combined tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks, five pass defenses, and four forced fumbles in 2019. Parsons is the kind of player you notice every snap on defense, whether it’s as a run defender, pass defender, or up the middle on the pass rush. The Dolphins would be adding a game-changer and the prototype for a modern-day NFL linebacker.
7. Cincinnati Bengals – Gregory Rousseau (Miami) – EDGE [OPTED OUT]
The Bengals added a number of good interior defenders to their defensive line this past off-season but could get a lot better by adding the ACC’s leading sack artist. Though not always the prettiest, Rousseau finished the 2019 season trailing just Chase Young for the NCAA sack lead with 15.5 sacks. He is an incredibly rangy and versatile player at 6’7″ 265 lbs, and if he adds more pass-rushing moves, will be a constant pass-rushing threat off both the edge and through the middle. With Carlos Dunlap now over 30, the Bengals need more pass rushers after finishing with the seventh-fewest sacks in 2019.
8. Arizona Cardinals – Alex Leatherwood (Alabama) – Offensive Tackle
The Cardinals made the questionable move of passing up on a tackle in round one of the 2020 draft but still have a shaky at best offensive line protecting their former-first overall pick Kyler Murray. A number of offensive lineman on Arizona had decent seasons considering the circumstances but adding a player that can play both the interior and tackle would be a large step in finally fortifying their line. Leatherwood has played right guard but played left tackle for Alabama in 2019. He finished last season surrendering just two sacks and three quarterback hurries all season. There’s a good chance Leatherwood would have been a first-round pick, potentially in the top-20, had he come out last season.
9. New York Jets – Shaun Wade (Ohio State) – Cornerback
The Jets aren’t nearly as bad a team as many believe, but they are missing players at a number of premium positons. Perhaps the most important being cornerback. While Wade may have been somewhat shadowed by the emergence of Jeffrey Okudah, he was a big part of why Ohio State was the number-one total and passing defense in 2019. Wade mainly manned the slot but is another Buckeye cornerback with the qualities of a starting NFL corner. The cancellation of the Big 10 season will certainly affect the way a lot of general managers evaluate Wade, due to a lack of reps at outside cornerback, but Ohio State has had a corner drafted in the first round in four of the past five drafts.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers – Trey Lance (North Dakota State) – Quarterback
The Steelers may have not seem like the type of team to take a dual-threat quarterback, but Pittsburgh is a team that doesn’t like to lose for long. Ben Roethlisberger is 38 years old and Mike Tomlin has to look no further than at their biggest rivals for how to uphold prolonged success in the modern-day NFL. John Harbaugh and the Ravens have done wonders with Lamar Jackson and in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry, both teams typically like to fight fire with fire. Lance had 2,786 passing yards, 1,100 rushing yards, 28 touchdowns, and no picks as a redshirt freshman in 2019. Any quarterback that produces that much offense with no interceptions is in a special category.
11. Las Vegas Raiders – Marvin Wilson (Florida State) – Defensive Tackle
The Raiders and Jon Gruden are quietly putting together a solid defensive line for the long haul. Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell are both likely thought of as franchise pass rushers and giving them more help on the interior could help the two excel even further. Wilson was thought as debatably the best pass-rushing interior lineman in the 2019 draft prior to returning to FSU and still retains that title in the 2020 class. He is coming off of a hand injury that ended his 2019 season early but could even be more dominant as a senior in 2020.
12. Atlanta Falcons – Carlos Basham Jr. (Wake Forrest) – Edge
The Falcons have been trying to find consistent pass rushers for what feels like forever. They took a shot signing Dante Fowler to a three-year deal coming off of a career-season but have little depth behind him. Basham could be the player to anchor their pass rush around in the future. He has great size at 6’5″ 275 lbs and produced at a very high-level last season in the ACC. His 18.0 tackles for loss were good for second in his conference while his 10.0 sacks ranked him third. Basham may need a little more refinement but his raw intangibles along with his production spell high-ceiling NFL pass rusher.
13. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Los Angeles Rams) – Samuel Cosmi (Texas) – Offensive Tackle
Whether the Jaguars are trying to compete in 2020 or not, their commitment to Cam Robinson is likely dependant on how he, as an individual, plays going into a contract year. If he balls out, he could become one of the more desirable tackles in free agency and if he falters, could be relegated to career backup. Either way, the scenario of him being extended by the Jaguars seems unlikely. Cosmi is a big and athletic blindside tackle that helped Texas’ offense reach new heights in 2019. He is likely the stiffest competition pushing Sewell to be the first tackle off the board next April. According to Bleacher Reports Matt Miller, “Penei Sewell isn’t entrenched as OT1,” despite being maybe the best tackle in college since his freshman year. This puts Cosmi in elite company as of now.
14. Tennessee Titans – Jaylen Twyman (Pitt) – Defensive Tackle
Twyman may not look like Jurrell Casey but he could be a nice replacement if the Titans choose to fortify the defensive line next season. The Pitt defensive tackle is fairly undersized for a defensive lineman but he has two things working in his favor. First, he was incredibly productive in 2019, notching 10.5 sacks and 12.0 tackles for loss from the interior. Second, there is currently an undersized defensive tackle who played for Pitt in the NFL and he might be the best overall player in the league. Expecting anyone to be the next Aaron Donald is impossible but Twyman has disruptor potential if his sophomore season was any indication.
15. Chicago Bears – Jaylen Waddle (Alabama) – Wide Receiver
The Bears are a team that could be looking at taking a quarterback in 2020 but have a defense that can only be held together for so long. For that reason, their offense needs weapons that can help them win as soon as possible. Waddle is one of the most fun players to watch in college football as a kick returner and is no slouch as a receiver either. His offensive numbers took a step back with a continually banged up Tua Tagovailoa and crowded receiver room in 2019 but Waddle showed why he is one of the most deadly players in the country with the ball in his hands all of last season. He now has the chance to show the ceiling of those abilities as the top-receiver at Alabama. Matt Nagy would love the speed and dynamic playmaking ability Waddle brings.
16. Philadelphia Eagles – Dylan Moses (Alabama) – Linebacker
Howie Roseman used his first-round pick in 2019 to add Jalen Reagor, another receiver for Carson Wentz, but could have badly used a linebacker. The Eagles franchise has not taken a first-round linebacker since Jerry Robinson in 1979. Selecting Moses would be a necessary addition to the team’s thinnest position group. He is a perfect linebacker prospect with great athletic ability at 6’3″ 240lbs. His calling cards are his traditional linebacking traits of tacking and pursuit, but if he is given the proper angles, can his you like a train. Moses is the kind of linebacker you can envision leading an NFL defense for a decade.
17. Indianapolis Colts – Walker Little (Stanford) – Offensive Tackle
The Colts offensive line has been touted as one of the best in the NFL but still has some questions surrounding the longevity of long-time tackle Anthony Castonzo. He has started at least 11 games each of the past 10 seasons for the Colts since being drafted by the team in 2011. Castonzo needs a successor and Little could fit the bill. Little is an intriguing prospect going into next season. He was one of the most highly touted players – at any position – coming off of his 2018 sophomore season but a knee injury he suffered in Stanford’s first game of the 2019 season forced him to miss all of 2019. If the Pac-12 plays a winter season, the former 5-star recruit could reestablish himself as one of the best tackles in the NCAA.
18. Cleveland Browns – Christian Barmore (Alabama) – Defensive Tackle
While Cleveland’s season didn’t go as planned in 2019, perhaps the worst aspect of their team was their run defense. The Browns allowed the third-most rushing yards last season and need to add more players that can help through the middle. Barmore saw limited snaps in 2019 due to an always crowded Alabama defensive line but was incredibly productive as both a run defender and pass rusher. The defensive tackle registered 26 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss, and 2.0 sacks on just 269 snaps last season. He has an elite blend of size, strength, and athleticism, and if he makes strides in 2020, could be selected even higher than 18th by the time the draft rolls around.
19. Denver Broncos – Liam Eichenberg (Notre Dame) – Offensive Tackle
The Broncos opted not to replace Garett Bolles for the upcoming season but they likely aren’t still expecting him to be the long-term answer at left tackle. Notre Dame has become a factory for turning out quality tackles and Eichenberg could be the next in line. In 2019, he did not allow a sack, surrendered just three quarterback hits, and allowed nine hurries on 845 snaps. Drew Lock needs good blindside protection if he is going to become the franchise quarterback the Broncos desire.
20. New England Patriots – Rashad Bateman (Minnesota) – Wide Receiver [OPTED OUT]
Whether Bateman’s choice to forego the college football season affects his draft stock or not, there’s a good chance he ends up in the late first round. He’ll have a full year to prepare for the combine and is coming off of a great sophomore year. The Golden Gophers receiver finished the 2018 season with 60 catches for 1,219 and 11 touchdowns on his way to being named Big 10 Receiver of the Year. Bateman has a little bit of speed, a little bit of size, and the ability to create consistent yards after the catch. The Patriots need more quality pass-catchers with questions at each receiver and quarterback.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Travis Etienne (Clemson) – Running Back
Etienne not entering the 2020 draft after three incredibly productive seasons with Clemson, is still one of the more bizarre decisions amongst the class. He would have likely been the highest-drafted running back if he were to have come out as a junior and now, has the uncertainty of upcoming the COVID-19 season. Over the past two seasons, Etienne has won back-to-back ACC Player of the Year awards and led his conference in yards from scrimmage, touchdowns from scrimmage, and yards per rushing attempt. He has simply been the most productive player in the ACC for the past two years. Even if Leonard Fournette has a solid 2020 season, extending him long-term seems unlikely with the way running backs are valued. Tom Brady and the new-look Buccaneers offense is loaded outside of the running back position.
22. Minnesota Vikings – Jevon Holland (Oregon) – Safety/Cornerback
After seemingly adding secondary depth at every opportunity they’ve had, the Vikings find themselves a little too shallow on the backend. Selecting Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler in last year’s draft is a good start to getting younger but the two are probably the most promising corners on the roster. Holland has been an elite playmaker since he stepped onto the field at Oregon and can play both the slot and either safety position. He had recorded 108 tackles, 10 pass defense, and nine interceptions over the past two seasons. Holland may not get a shot to play in 2020 but his numbers during his college career could be enough to keep him as the highest-rated safety in the draft all year.
23. Miami Dolphins (via Houston Texans) – Rondale Moore (Purdue) – Wide Receiver [OPTED OUT]
Moore’s decision not to play in 2020 is an interesting one. As a freshman, his numbers at Purdue were off the charts — recording 1,258 receiving yards, 213 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on 135 total touches. However, he lost the majority of his 2019 to a hamstring injury after just four games. He will now have the entirety of 2020/21 to prepare for the draft but going into his assumed first year of NFL action, he will have not played a meaningful snap of football in roughly 22 months. The Dolphins need more playmakers and Moore is electric whenever he finds the ball. If Devante Parker and Preston Williams are the Dolphin’s long-term receiving options on the outside, Moore could man the slot.
24. New York Jets (via Seattle Seahawks) – Seth Williams (Auburn) – Wide Receiver
The Jets acquired this pick via the Jamal Adams trade and could use it on his replacement. However, finding more reliable targets for their franchise quarterback, Sam Darnold would seem more important. The Williams-Bo Nix partnership began to show itself last year at Auburn and could be one of the best quarterback-receiver combos in the NCAA by year’s end. Williams uses his good size and box-out skills to find his way to the ball (59 receptions in 2019) and has enough juice to get open downfield. Outside of second-round pick Denzel Mims, the Jets have very few long-term options at receiver for their quarterback.
25. Buffalo Bills – Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech) – Cornerback [OPTED OUT]
It’s hard to find a weak spot in the Bills defense but their cornerback group could get even better by adding Farley. He was a pass breakup machine in 2019 with 12 pass defenses and four interceptions. Farley is also very quick for a 6’2″ 207lbs corner. This combination of athletic ability and skill make him one of the most versatile outside corners in the draft. If teams can get past his less-than-impressive tackling ability, Farley could be a top-two cornerback off the board in April. Tre’Davious White is the big dog amongst the Bills corners but getting him a long-term partner to run with could create one of the best secondaries in football for the next half-decade.
26. Dallas Cowboys – Kyle Pitts (Florida) – Tight End
The Cowboys are loaded on offense going into 2020 but that doesn’t mean they should stop adding. Behind Dak Prescott, the Cowboys have won just two playoff games and could benefit from giving him more assistance over the middle of the field. Current starting tight end Blake Jarwin was recently given a four-year extension but has just 58 receptions and 672 receiving yards over the past two seasons. Pitts is one of the best receiving tight ends in next year’s draft and could be the security blanket over the middle Prescott desires. The tight end class is exceptional at the top-end but Pitts could be the best one after playing a huge role in Florida’s offense last season.
27. Green Bay Packers – Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State) – Wide Receiver
Even if head coach Matt LaFleur‘s strategy is to run the ball as much as he can, he can not neglect to add more receiving talent on a team that is built to win now. Getting help for Aaron Rodgers could be a large factor in making sure he stays in Green Bay, and if not for him, then for the young Jordan Love. Wallace might not be the biggest receiver, listed at 6’0″ (and he may be shorter), but he plays with a raw tenacity at receiver that can be paralleled by few receivers in his class. His receiving numbers are incredibly impressive over his last 22 games — registering 139 receptions for 2,394 yards and 21 touchdowns. He is still recovering from the ACL injury that forced him to cut his junior season short, but if he comes back healthy, could dominate the Big-12 once again in 2020.
28. Los Angeles Chargers – Creed Humphrey (Oklahoma) – Interior Offensive Line
Mike Pouncey has been the Chargers center since signing from Miami in 2018 but has not played particularly well during his two seasons in Los Angeles. He is playing on a one-year deal in 2020 and could be replaced as soon as next season. Humphrey has been one of the best centers in college football over the past two seasons and may have been a first-round selection in 2020 had he decided to forgo his senior season. He’s very agile for a center and is very creative and productive with his hand placement. Adding protection for a young quarterback never hurts.
29. San Fransisco 49ers – Richard LeCounte III (Georgia) – Safety
While the Niners defense was the second-best total-defense in football last season, their secondary is far from perfect. Jimmie Ward had a career-season at safety last year but there were still questions for who would start beside him going into Super Bowl 54. Adding LeCounte would give the Niners a safety duo that their defense deserves. In 2019, he showed the ability to both make plays as a box and high safety and had one of the most colorful stat lines of any draft-eligible defensive back. Last season LeCounte recorded 4.5 tackles for loss, three pass defenses, forced six turnovers (four picks and two forced fumbles), and led the SEC in fumbles recovered with three.
30. Kansas City Chiefs – Paulson Adebo (Stanford) – Cornerback
The Chiefs won the Super Bowl in 2020 despite having a fairly unreliable group of corners. Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller will both be starting for new teams this upcoming season and the Chiefs need more reinforcements on the backend, even with their elite offense. Adebo is an intriguing prospect because he is still a fairly raw corner but has shown a high upside at Stanford since being recruited as a receiver. His best trait is his tackling and if he continues to refine his coverage ability, will be a high pick in next year’s draft. He has recorded a crazy eight interceptions and 27 pass defenses over the past two seasons.
31. New Orleans Saints – Brock Purdy (Iowa State) – Quarterback
With no more Teddy Bridgewater, the Saints are now officially looking for a successor to the 41-year-old Drew Brees. The Saints should once again be competitive in 2020 and if they manage to make a run at the Super Bowl, their long-time quarterback would seriously consider retirement. Purdy would be a great player to take over the Saints offense post-Brees. The two players have been compared to each other throughout Purdy’s college career — from their height to the way they throw the ball. Purdy is a great decision-maker with the ball in his hands and is a good enough athlete to create plays off of the scramble.
32. Baltimore Ravens – Quincy Roche (Miami) – EDGE
The Ravens currently boast potentially the best roster in the NFL and do not need a lot more assistance outside of another pass rusher. Matt Judon is playing on the franchise tag and the Ravens have little in reinforcements behind him. Roche is coming off of a tremendously successful season with Temple — finishing 2019 with the seventh-most sacks (13.0) in the NCAA. He will now see a significantly bigger role at Miami in a tougher conference and with the Hurricanes big dog, Rousseau, having opted out of the 2020 season. If Roche replicates his success in the American Conference in the ACC, his draft stock could skyrocket.
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