2021 NFL Mock Draft 1.0 From Brendan Donahue

Brendan Donahue is the most accurate mock drafter over the last four years, according to the Huddle Report. He will be posting weekly mock drafts for Sharp Football Analysis.

For the first time since 1982, there will not be a scouting combine for the NFL Draft.  This certainly puts more emphasis on each player’s pro day so I expect many iterations of this mock as pro days have just begun to kick off.  To keep it simple for now, I have not projected any trades as we still have 6 weeks until draft day to see how the offseason starts to play out.  With that said, I think it’s safe to go ahead and lock in the first pick already.

Pick #1 Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

It feels as if this pick has been three years in the making ever since Lawrence burst onto the scene as a freshman at Clemson and led them to a national championship. At 6’6″, 220lbs with mobility,  he is the type of prospect that scouts have compared to the likes of John Elway and Andrew Luck as a once-in-a-decade type talent. With a new regime in Jacksonville headlined by Urban Meyer, they aren’t going to begin their tenure by passing on a talent like Lawrence.

Pick #2 New York Jets – Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

This is where the draft really begins and it could go in many different directions this year. The Jets certainly have the ammo to make a trade for a big-name QB but, as of now, it looks like they may stay put and instead trade away who was recently considered their franchise QB. Neither GM Joe Douglas nor new head coach Robert Salah were part of the process in drafting Sam Darnold, so it would make sense that they are ok moving on from him and bringing in their own guy. Enter Zach Wilson, who has seen the biggest rise up draft boards in the past year. His 2020 season justifies the praise he has been receiving as he threw for 33 TD’s and only three interceptions while completing 73.5% of his passes.  

Pick #3 Miami Dolphins – Ja’marr Chase, WR, LSU

Due to Chase opting out of the 2020 season and combining that with the Heisman winning season from DeVonta Smith, it’s easy to forget the type of player Chase was as a true sophomore at LSU in 2019.  He won the Biletnikoff Award as the best WR in college while putting up 84 catches for 1,720 yards and 20 TD’s and that was all with an older Justin Jefferson on the team.

Pick #4 Atlanta Falcons – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio St.

While the Falcons remain committed to Matt Ryan for the upcoming season, they have a chance to draft his heir apparent, who happens to be from the Atlanta area in Justin Fields. Once considered the consensus QB2 in this draft class, Fields has seen his stock drop a bit due to some inconsistent play in 2020 but his 6-TD performance against Clemson in the national semifinals reminded everyone just how high his ceiling can be.  

Pick #5 Cincinnati Bengals – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

The Bengals are able to match the best player available with their biggest need in Sewell. The season-ending injury to Joe Burrow last season was a stark reminder that the Bengals need immediate help along the offensive line. Sewell, who even after sitting out 2020, is widely considered the best lineman in this draft and can become Burrow’s blindside protection for the next decade to come if all goes right.

Pick #6 Philadelphia Eagles – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

While Pitts is technically labeled as a tight end, his tape reminds many of an elite WR, so let’s just call him the best pass catcher available for a team that could desperately use one. The Eagles have utilized two tight end sets since they drafted Dallas Goedert, so with the rumblings that Zach Ertz may be on his way out, they can seamlessly integrate Pitts into the system and give Jalen Hurts a dynamic weapon to help him in his first full season as the Eagles starting QB.

Pick #7 Detroit Lions – Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

If the draft does play out this way, this pick would be a logical trading spot for teams trying to leapfrog the Panthers at No. 8 for a quarterback. However, in my first iteration of mocks, I am not going to project any trades even though the Lions would be wise to trade down and garner more picks to address their multiple needs. That said, given the fact five of the wide receivers on their roster last year are currently unrestricted free agents, including Kenny Golladay, they can not only fill a glaring need at WR with Waddle but also add someone who exemplifies the toughness that head coach Dan Campbell preached about in his introductory press conference. Waddle, who rushed back from what many thought was a season-ending injury, was able to be productive in the national championship game while still visibly limping. Now that he has had extra time to heal, he can return to being the fastest WR in the draft and an explosive weapon for the Lions’ offense.

Pick #8 Carolina Panthers – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota St.

Fresh off his pro day, Lance reminded scouts that he is a unique talent and got them buzzing about him again. Turn on NFL Network or ESPN and you hear comps to Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson. While there are questions about his competition and total number of games started, there is no questioning his physical tools and athleticism. To quote Daniel Jeremiah “it’s a limited body of work, but the foundation is outstanding.” As the draft draws closer, I expect Lance to continue to move up draft boards and won’t be surprised to see him be a top-5 pick on draft day.

Pick #9 Denver Broncos – Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

There is a clear distinction in who the top 3 CB’s are this year but it is not as clear which one will go off the board first between Patrick Surtain II, Caleb Farley, and Jaycee Horn. Denver goes with the 2020 SEC defensive player of the year even while opposing offenses typically avoided throwing at him. At 6’2″, 202lbs, he is the prototypical size and speed combination NFL scouts covet at the position.

Pick #10 Dallas Cowboys – Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

Farley doesn’t have to wait long to hear his name called as the Cowboys also have a need at corner. At 6’2″, 207lbs, he has almost the same measurables and attributes as Surtain, which is why it is pretty much splitting hairs between the two.

Pick #11 New York Giants – DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

If the Giants believe in building around Daniel Jones as their franchise QB, then it’s time to start providing him with the best weapons they can. They happen to find one in the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, who is coming off one of the most impressive seasons any college WR has ever had. Smith posted 117 catches for 1,856 yards and 23 TD’s and was on his way to a historic national championship game with 12 catches for 215 yards and 3 TD’s before being knocked out of the game early due to injury. It is only his lack of size that knocks him down the draft board a bit and from being in the mix for the Dolphins at 3.

Pick #12 San Francisco 49ers – Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

Many expect the Niners to be aggressive in the draft and try to move up to grab one of the top quarterbacks. If they aren’t able to do that, they at least are in a spot to take the last remaining CB of the top tier. At 6’1″, 205lbs, he too fits the mold of the prototypical NFL CB and plays a physical brand of football that will fit in well with the Niners’ D.

Pick #13 Los Angeles Chargers – Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern

This is a case of where value meets need. At 6’4″, 315lbs, Slater may not be the biggest or strongest offensive lineman in the draft but because he can also move inside he may be considered the safest. That’s exactly what a team that found their cornerstone just last year in QB Justin Herbert needs.

Pick #14 Minnesota Vikings – Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC

My guess is the Vikings are hoping Slater falls to them as they too have needs at both tackle and guard but since the Chargers snatch him up the pick before they go with the next best tackle/guard combo in the draft. Listed at the same exact size as Slater, Vera-Tucker would probably be best utilized at guard but he offers insurance in case the Vikings aren’t able to replace Riley Reiff, who the team recently cut due to cap concerns.

Pick #15 New England Patriots – Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

Notoriously the toughest team to predict with their first round picks as they have a proclivity of trading down and sometimes even out of the round altogether, they may have given us a little hint at their plans this week when they re-signed Cam Newton to another one-year deal. The player and contract suggest he is just a bridge to the next guy as they did not want to commit dollars or years to another established QB.  Jones does have a lot of traits that Bill Belichick typically looks for including accuracy, decision making, and leadership. Couple that with the Saban connection and it seems Jones may be the guy Belichick is looking for to ultimately take over the franchise for Tom Brady.  

Pick #16 Arizona Cardinals – Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

While CB may currently be the Cards’ most glaring need now that Patrick Peterson has become a free agent, they instead address the most important issue which is protecting Kyler Murray. Darrisaw is widely considered one of, if not the best pure blocker in this class as he consistently got better during his three years as a starter at Virginia Tech.

Pick #17 Las Vegas Raiders – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn St.

We have seen some of Mike Mayock’s reactions to elite athletes at the combine and he may have another one if he attends the Penn State pro day on 3/25. Having opted out of the 2020 season, I think scouts will be quickly reminded of the type of athlete/player Parsons is at his workout and may start to move up draft boards again. He is the type of versatile and dynamic linebacker that Gruden and Mayock have been looking for to shore up their defense.

Pick #18 Miami Dolphins – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame

Derived from the Bill Belichick philosophy of looking for football players that can play multiple positions and fit different schemes, Owusu-Koramoah is the ideal player Brian Flores may be looking for, especially after the release of Kyle Van Noy last week. At 6’1″, 215lbs, he may be a bit undersized but has shown he can make up for it not only with his ability in coverage but also attacking the line of scrimmage averaging a tackle for loss per game the past two seasons at Notre Dame.

Pick #19 Washington Football Team – Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida

While it’s no secret that Washington is looking to upgrade their QB position, they aren’t going to be able to accomplish that here with the top passers already off the board, so instead they give whoever is playing QB for them another weapon to work with.  Toney, although a bit undersized, is an explosive, quick-twitch athlete, that not only caught 70 passes for 984 yards and 10 TD’s but also ran the ball 19 times for 8.5 yards per carry and can add another dimension to the Washington offense that it seemed to lack at times last year.

Pick #20 Chicago Bears – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

Another team looking to upgrade its QB position but ultimately settling on a WR at this point in the draft. Although looking at Bateman’s college stats, coupled with his recent sub 4.4 40 at the Exos combine, it’s unfair to describe picking Bateman as “settling.” Just a sophomore in 2019, he had 1,219 yards and 11 TD’s while averaging over 20 yards per catch.  

Pick #21 Indianapolis Colts – Gregory Rousseau, Edge, Miami

Defensive lineman, specifically edge rushers at this point have not distinguished themselves yet and may push each other down the draft boards as a result. Rousseau sat out last season, but in 2019 had 15.5 sacks while lining up all over the defensive line showing his ability to get pressure not just from the edge which should appeal to Colts’ defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.

Pick #22 Tennessee Titans – Kwity Paye, Edge, Michigan

Another “edge” lineman and another one that can play in multiple fronts. The Titans as a team only recorded 19.5 sacks last year so adding a pass rusher will be high on their to-do list, even after going hard on the position in free agency. Paye is another player that may “wow” scouts at his pro day on 3/26 and could start to separate himself from the pack.

Pick #23 New York Jets – Azeez Ajulari, Edge, Georgia

The run on the defensive line continues as new head coach Robert Salah goes with what he knows best and that’s getting pressure on the QB. Ajulari had 9.5 sacks in 10 games last year while also forcing 4 fumbles.

Pick #24 Pittsburgh Steelers – Jaylen Mayfield, OT, Michigan

If the Steelers are going to give it another go with Big Ben at the helm they are gonna have to try and protect him, so look for them to go offensive line here especially given their starting left tackle is now a free agent. Mayfield is another guy who can play outside or move in depending on if the Steelers do in the offseason but he should be able to help either way.

Pick #25 Jacksonville Jaguars – Jaelan Phillips, Edge, Miami

After securing their franchise QB with Trevor Lawrence earlier, the Jags turn their attention to pressuring the other team’s QB, since they had the second-fewest sacks in the league last year with only 18. In 10 games last year, Phillips had 8.5 sacks and that’s after sitting out the 2019 season due to transferring from UCLA.  

Pick #26 Cleveland Browns – Trevon Moehring, Safety, TCU

Even with John Johnson in the mix, the 2020 Jim Thorpe winner should be an immediate upgrade at safety and in a defensive back-heavy look for the Browns. Moehring was also TCU’s special teams player of the year as a freshman and will be able to contribute in the facet as a rookie as well.

Pick #27 Baltimore Ravens – Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma St.

With Orlando Brown requesting a trade, the Ravens now have an opening on the right side of the line that Jenkins can fill.  Jenkins is considered one of the better run blockers in the class which will fit Baltimore’s style perfectly.

Pick #28 New Orleans Saints – Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

Newsome may have solidified a spot in the first round with his 4.38 40 at his recent pro day. When on the field, Newsome earned first-team Big 10 honors but injuries have been a bit of a problem in his career as he has missed parts of each of the past three seasons which puts him just below the top 3 CB’s in this draft.  

Pick #29 Green Bay Packers – Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama

At 6’5″, 310lbs, Balmore has the size to stack up against the run but also the ability and explosiveness to get to the QB as evidenced by his team-leading 8.0 sacks last season, including one in the national championship game to go also with two tackles for loss and five overall tackles, earning him the defensive MVP of the game award.

Pick #30 Buffalo Bills – Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

While I don’t personally subscribe to taking a running back in the first round, it seems one or more always tend to be taken. The Bills could use a homerun threat at the position as Devin Singletary and Zach Moss, who were their two top RB’s last year, combined for only seven runs of 20 yards or more. Compare that to Derrick Henry, who had 16 such runs on his own last season. Etienne confirmed his home run speed at his recent pro day, clocking a 4.41 40 while weighing in at 215lbs and would add another dynamic to an already potent Bills offense.

Pick #31 Kansas City Chiefs – Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame

The Super Bowl shined a very bright light on the importance of a competent offensive line. At the time, we could chalk up the incompetence of the KC o-line in the Super Bowl to injuries, but now it’s a more permanent problem with the release of both of their starting tackles this past week. Eichenberg is a three-year starter at left tackle at Notre Dame and gives KC an experienced college player who can step in and contribute on Day 1.

Pick #32 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington

Hard to find many holes on the defending Super Bowl champions’ roster, but depending on whether or not they bring back Ndamukong Suh may create one. The Buccaneers led the league last year in rushing yards allowed per game at only 80.6 which is even more impressive when you see the Colts, who were the second-best team, allowed 90.5 per game. His tape is a bit inconsistent but being able to line up next to an anchor like Vita Vea should allow him to flash some of his high-end potential more often and utilize his versatility.  

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