Ryan McCrystal is the No. 2 most accurate mock drafter over the last five years, according to the Huddle Report. He will be posting weekly mock drafts for Sharp Football Analysis.
A lot will change in the coming weeks, but let’s take a look at some projections for the 2021 NFL Draft just before we head into free agency. In this mock draft, I’m projecting what I think each team will do based on a combination of needs, available talent, GM tendencies, and scheme fits.
To simplify the process, no trades are projected in this version, which may lead to some players (especially quarterbacks) coming off the board slightly lower in this mock draft than they will on draft day.
Pick #1 Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Urban Meyer has been effusive in his praise of Trevor Lawrence dating back to before he was even a candidate for the Jaguars job. They’re certainly doing their due diligence on Justin Fields and Zach Wilson, but Lawrence is a heavy favorite to land in Jacksonville.
Pick #2 New York Jets – Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur has spent his entire NFL career coaching under Kyle Shanahan, so we can probably assume he’ll look for a similar passer to guys with whom Shanahan has found success. Assuming GM Joe Douglas and HC Robert Saleh (who also worked with Shanahan in San Francisco) are on the same page, that likely means the Jets will favor accuracy and decision making over athleticism, which probably tips the scales in Zach Wilson’s favor—although it certainly doesn’t rule out Justin Fields, who has demonstrated a solid skillset in those areas as well.
Pick #3 Miami Dolphins – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
Protecting Tua Tagovailoa and helping him feel more comfortable in the pocket should be the Dolphins’ offseason priority. He excelled throwing downfield at Alabama, but it was a glaring weakness to his game as a rookie in the NFL. With improved protection, he may able to regain his form in that area. It’s also worth noting this is the slot other QB-needy teams will be trying to trade into—the Panthers and Broncos are probably best positioned to make that move.
Pick #4 Atlanta Falcons – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
New head coach Arthur Smith relied heavily on play-action as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator the past two seasons (35% of their pass attempts in 2020, according to Sports Info Solutions). And on those play-action attempts, tight ends saw a 24% target share. Kyle Pitts would thrive in this offense, potentially allowing Atlanta to make another push at contending before Matt Ryan’s window closes.
Pick #5 Cincinnati Bengals – Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
The Bengals are in a good position to address either the offensive line or their receiving corps. Given the scarcity of high-end offensive line talent, teams in similar situations have historically tended to address the offensive line first, knowing there will be plenty of impact weapons available on Day 2.
Pick #6 Philadelphia Eagles – Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, owner Jeff Lurie has instructed the team to build around Jalen Hurts, at least in the short term. Ja’Marr Chase is a more traditional outside receiver compared to the undersized speedster DeVonta Smith, likely making him a better complement to last year’s first-round selection, Jalen Reagor.
Pick #7 Detroit Lions – DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Detroit has two seasons before they can cut Jared Goff without taking a cap hit, making it likely they’ll attempt to build around him in the short term. If Kenny Golladay returns (he will not be franchise tagged), DeVonta Smith looks like the ideal complement to his skillset; if not, any of the top receivers are equally in play.
Pick #8 Carolina Panthers – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
The Panthers reportedly were in on the Matthew Stafford sweepstakes and have interest in Deshaun Watson as well. Clearly, they’re hoping for an upgrade from Teddy Bridgewater sooner rather than later, making them one of the favorites to land Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, or Trey Lance.
Pick #9 Denver Broncos – Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
During new GM George Paton’s time as assistant GM in Minnesota, the Vikings drafted three cornerbacks in the first round. So it appears to be a position he values targeting early in the draft. Caleb Farley and Patrick Surtain II would both be justified top-10 selections.
Pick #10 Dallas Cowboys – Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis both hit free agency this offseason, and it’s possible neither returns to Dallas. If either Farley or Surtain is still on the board, it would be a perfect blend of need and value for the Cowboys.
Pick #11 New York Giants – Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
GM Dave Gettleman has a history of drafting big, athletic defensive tackles (Star Lotulelei, Vernon Butler in Carolina) and the defensive line appears to be a glaring need unless Dalvin Tomlinson and Leonard Williams are both re-signed (Williams was tagged on Tuesday).
Pick #12 San Francisco 49ers: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
Seven different cornerbacks played at least 200 snaps for San Francisco in 2020 and the result, outside of pending free agent Jason Verrett, was inconsistent. There appears to be a consensus that Surtain, Farley, and Jaycee Horn will be the first three cornerbacks off the board, with one of them likely landing here unless significant upgrades are added via free agency.
Pick #13 Los Angeles Chargers: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
Upgrading protection for Justin Herbert is an offseason priority. New OC Joe Lombardi comes from New Orleans where the Saints heavily favor a zone-blocking scheme that should be familiar to Christian Darrisaw from his days at Virginia Tech, allowing for a smooth transition to the pros.
Pick #14 Minnesota Vikings: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Anthony Barr’s future with the Vikings is up in the air—it likely relates to their ability to restructure his contract—and if he’s gone, Micah Parsons becomes an obvious target as a replacement.
Pick #15 New England Patriots: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
With so many needs, the Patriots’ draft strategy is difficult to predict—and maybe that makes them a strong candidate to trade down. Belichick often likes linebackers with great range (Jamie Collins comes to mind), which could entice him to pair Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah with Dont’a Hightower.
Pick #16 Arizona Cardinals – Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Kliff Kingsbury’s offense favors short, quick passes—57% of their throws were within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage last year, the eighth-highest rate in the league according to Sports Info Solutions. Jaylen Waddle’s elusive ability after the catch would make him a natural fit in this scheme.
Pick #17 Las Vegas Raiders – Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
Clelin Ferrell led the Raiders in pressure rate but ranked only 36th in the league in 2020, according to Sports Info Solutions. If they add another weapon like Kwity Paye, and Ferrell takes another step in his development, the Raiders pass rush could be substantially improved this fall.
Pick #18 Miami Dolphins – Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami FL
The recently released Kyle Van Noy was second on the Dolphins in pressure rate and third in sacks in 2020. Since a strong pass rush was a defining characteristic of their blitz-heavy defense, it’s likely an area that will be addressed. Jaelan Phillips, Kwity Paye, Gregory Rousseau, and Azeez Ojulari are all candidates among a deep class of pass-rushers who figure to come off the board in this area.
Pick #19 Washington – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
With a good defense and an acceptable offense, Washington is unlikely to be drafting near the top of the draft in 2022. So while they need a quarterback of the future, their path to landing one isn’t clear. As a result, they’re probably among the teams who will be willing to gamble on Trey Lance’s upside, even though he’s inexperienced and untested against high-level competition.
Pick #20 Chicago Bears – Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
GM Ryan Pace and HC Matt Nagy appear to be lame ducks, making them desperate for any quarterback capable of winning in 2021 and thus saving their jobs. If they can’t land a veteran on the trade market, Mac Jones is an obvious fit on draft day, given his strengths as an accurate thrower and poised decision-maker, even if he lacks the other elite physical traits of most first-round quarterbacks.
Pick #21 Indianapolis Colts – Sam Cosmi, OT, Texas
Anthony Castonzo’s retirement was among the most devastating losses a team suffered this offseason. If Indianapolis can’t find a strong replacement in free agency, it would be difficult for them to justify spending this pick on any other position. Sam Cosmi, Christian Darrisaw, and Liam Eichenberg stand out as the most likely left tackle candidates on the board.
Pick #22 Tennessee Titans – Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
After appearing in just one game as a rookie, 2020 first-round pick Isaiah Wilson has already been shipped off to Miami. He was drafted for his run-blocking prowess to fill the shoes of the departed Jack Conklin, and the Titans could try to fill that void again with a similar prospect in Teven Jenkins.
Pick #23 New York Jets – Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami FL
The Jets have needs everywhere, so it’s probably best to assume they’ll lean towards a best available player approach with this selection—and a trade down to acquire more Day 2 picks is a definite possibility. Given the wealth of pass-rush talent likely to be available here, it’s reasonable to think Robert Salah may push for the team to add a weapon on the edge.
Pick #24 Pittsburgh Steelers – Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
Pittsburgh is in salary cap distress this offseason, and it may force them to part with JuJu Smith-Schuster. Kadarius Toney was an elite weapon on the slot for Florida last year, and could easily step into Smith-Schuster’s role in the Steelers’ offense.
Pick #25 Jacksonville Jaguars – Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia
While Georgia transitioned to a more zone-heavy scheme in 2020, Eric Stokes has plenty of experience in man coverage, especially press-man, during his first two years in the program. New Jaguars defensive coordinator Joe Cullen played the ninth-highest rate of man coverage with Baltimore last season, according to Sports Info Solutions, and Urban Meyer typically favored man coverage at Ohio State.
Pick #26 Cleveland Browns – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
With Odell Beckham Jr. on the outside and Jarvis Landry in the slot, the Browns are strong in two receiver roles, but they’ve failed to develop a dangerous weapon opposite OBJ on the outside. Rashod Bateman is a traditional outside receiver with decent size and enough speed to help stretch the field and should be an upgrade over free agent Rashard Higgins.
Pick #27 Baltimore Ravens – Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
Players who accounted for 55.8% of Baltimore QB pressures from a season ago are set to become free agents, most notably Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser, and Pernell McPhee. Re-signing all of them will be difficult, which likely means filling some holes elsewhere. Adding to the unit through the draft would be the smart way to maintain a high talent level without overspending on one position.
Pick #28 New Orleans Saints – Aaron Robinson, CB, UCF
New Orleans played among the highest rates of man coverage last season, so they’re more likely to favor someone with experience in a similar scheme. According to Sports Info Solutions, Aaron Robinson played man coverage on 53% of his snaps at UCF, making him a logical fit.
Pick #29 Green Bay Packers – Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame
David Bakhtiari’s torn ACL at the end of the 2020 season puts his 2021 campaign in jeopardy. Adding a prospect such as Liam Eichenberg would give them a viable option at left tackle to begin the year, while also giving them a potential long-term upgrade at right tackle.
Pick #30 Buffalo Bills – Wyatt Davis, OG, Ohio State
GM Brandon Beane has talked openly about improving the run game, and hinted that blocking was more of an issue than the running backs. This is a good class of interior lineman, so Buffalo has some options, but Wyatt Davis stands out as an immediate upgrade to their interior run blocking.
Pick #31 Kansas City Chiefs – Alijah Vera-Tucker, G/T, USC
The Super Bowl exposed the Chiefs’ offensive line, and even though injuries played a significant role in that performance, upgrades at multiple positions are potentially needed this offseason. Alijah Vera-Tucker would be particularly intriguing for a team rebuilding their offensive line due to his versatility (he’s started at LG and LT for USC).
Pick #32 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
With Chris Godwin getting the franchise tag, re-signing Shaq Barrett has now become more difficult. If Barrett is allowed to walk, Zaven Collins could potentially be a good fit in his place as a linebacker who excels on blitzes and playing downhill against the run.