With free agency now underway, certain teams are filling needs, while others are losing valuable pieces of their roster. Each of these moves is impacting the draft in some way, so let’s take a look at some first-round projections after the first day of free agent negotiations.
Pick #1 Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Not much to say about this one anymore. It would be among the all-time stunners if Jacksonville went any other direction with the top pick.
Pick #2 New York Jets – Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
Unless New York trades incumbent quarterback Sam Darold before the draft, there will be some uncertainty as to their direction with the second pick. However, new regimes taking over struggling franchises almost always put their stamp on the organization with a new quarterback. Zach Wilson’s elite accuracy gives him a slight edge, but Justin Fields and Trey Lance could certainly still be in the mix.
Pick #3 Miami Dolphins – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
The Dolphins started two rookies at tackle last season (Robert Hunt and Austin Jackson), so perhaps the team wants to continue developing that duo. However, many scouts viewed both players as better suited for guard in the pros. By selecting Penei Sewell, Miami could slot him at left tackle, shift Jackson to the right side and move Hunt to guard—potentially improving the performance of everyone on the line by placing them in situations better suited to their skill set.
Pick #4 Atlanta Falcons – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
Owner Arthur Blank has stated he wants Matt Ryan and Julio Jones to return in 2021, and owners tend to get what they want (Ryan just restructured his deal). Reading between the lines, that probably also means he’s not ready to rebuild, so we should assume this selection is likely to be someone capable of helping in 2021 (in other words, not a quarterback). Kyle Pitts would be a great fit in new head coach Arthur Smith’s offense.
Pick #5 Cincinnati Bengals – Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
According to Sports Info Solutions, Bengals right tackle Bobby Hart and left tackle Jonah Williams ranked 57th and 62nd, respectively, in blown-block rate in 2020 (out of 73 qualified tackles). Upgrading Joe Burrow’s protection is an offseason priority and Rashawn Slater or Penei Sewell would be difficult to pass up.
Pick #6 Philadelphia Eagles – Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
The Eagles drafted a receiver in the first round just last year (Jalen Reagor) but his production was disappointing and the rest of the receiving corps is a mess. If they’re building around Jalen Hurts, adding either Ja’Marr Chase or Kyle Pitts looks like a smart direction to go with this pick.
Pick #7 Detroit Lions – Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
With the Lions allowing Kenny Golladay and Romeo Okwara to hit free agency, it appears as though new GM Brad Holmes is hitting the reset button on this franchise (though Okwara did re-sign). Teams starting out a multi-year rebuilding process usually draft a quarterback (a possibility for Detroit, but not necessary right away) or they take the best available player approach. In a best available player scenario, Patrick Surtain II stands out as a strong candidate and would pair nicely with last year’s first-round cornerback Jeff Okudah.
Pick #8 Carolina Panthers – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Teddy Bridgewater gives the Panthers some ability to be flexible, but he also isn’t going to prevent them from finding their quarterback of the future. If they fall in love with one of the top prospects, a trade-up—maybe as high as No. 3 overall—would make sense.
Pick #9 Denver Broncos – Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami FL
Jaelan Phillips might be the most physically gifted pass-rusher in this class and would probably be the consensus number-one at his position if not for an injury-plagued past (he medically retired in 2018 before returning last year). Any team whose doctors clear him is likely to have Phillips high on their board.
Pick #10 Dallas Cowboys – Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
The secondary was one of the many issues for the Cowboys defense last season and, based on the available talent, it’s the area most likely to be addressed with this pick. If either Caleb Farley or Surtain are still on the board, it would be the ideal blend of need and value for Dallas.
Pick #11 New York Giants – DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
If Daniel Jones doesn’t take the next step in his development in Year 3, GM Dave Gettleman is likely to find himself on the hot seat—if not out of a job. DeVonta Smith would immediately be the most dangerous weapon in New York’s offense and potentially give Jones the supporting cast he needs to succeed.
Pick #12 San Francisco 49ers: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
San Francisco entered free agency with six defensive backs on the open market (although Jason Verrett has since been re-signed). They probably can’t afford to rebuild the entire secondary through free agency alone, so there’s a good chance an early draft selection will be used to upgrade the unit.
Pick #13 Los Angeles Chargers: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
The Chargers need upgrades across the offensive line, and they might as well start with left tackle. Christian Darrisaw was a three-year starter at left tackle at Virginia Tech should immediately provide Justin Herbert improved protection.
Pick #14 Minnesota Vikings: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC
Minnesota has some flexibility in rebuilding its offensive line following the release of left tackle Riley Reiff. Left guard Ezra Cleveland played left tackle at Boise State and could shift back outside. Adding Alijah Vera-Tucker, another player with starting experience at both guard and tackle, would further increase that flexibility and give Minnesota some time to figure out the best role for everyone in training camp.
Pick #15 New England Patriots: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
The Patriots re-signed Cam Newton to a one-year contract last week, but rather than steering them away from a quarterback, it might actually make them better suited to land Trey Lance. With just 17 career starts against FCS competition, Lance is unlikely to be prepared to start early in 2021. Newton’s presence gives New England a competent short-term solution, while Lance sits for a year preparing for 2022.
Pick #16 Arizona Cardinals – Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
During his career at Alabama, Jaylen Waddle averaged 9.9 yards after the catch per reception, according to Sports Info Solutions. That electric skill set would make him an ideal weapon in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense.
Pick #17 Las Vegas Raiders – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Since Jon Gruden arrived, the Raiders have been a tough team to predict. They’re often a candidate to make a selection no one saw coming, but they also tend to draft for need which gives us some clues. With a clear hole to fill at strong-side linebacker, Micah Parsons would be an ideal fit.
Pick #18 Miami Dolphins – Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami FL
After releasing linebacker Kyle Van Noy and trading defensive end Shaq Lawson, the Dolphins have now lost two of their three leaders in QB pressures from a season ago. Gregory Rousseau primarily played a traditional defensive end role at Miami in college, making him a good fit to step into Lawson’s spot with the Dolphins.
Pick #19 Washington – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
Only 6.1 percent of Washington’s pass attempts resulted in a gain of 20 or more yards, the second lowest rate in the league. Quarterback play was partially to blame but adding another weapon to pair with Terry McLaurin would greatly improve their explosive ability as well.
Pick #20 Chicago Bears – Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
Bears fans continue to dream up ways for the team to acquire Russell Wilson, but it’s hard to imagine the Seattle Seahawks following through on those rumors. Unless they shock the football world with such a trade, the Bears are likely to enter the draft as the most quarterback-desperate team and will likely settle for Mac Jones if he’s on the board.
Pick #21 Indianapolis Colts – Sam Cosmi, OT, Texas
When facing pressure, Carson Wentz ranked dead last in on-target rate (52.8%) and yards per attempt (4.0) in 2020, according to Sports Info Solutions. Those numbers, coupled with left tackle Anthony Castonzo’s retirement, should make the Colts nervous. Finding a capable left tackle in free agency or the draft should be their top priority.
Pick #22 Tennessee Titans – Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
The Titans tried to replace Jack Conklin with Isaiah Wilson in the first round last year. After that fell apart—Wilson has since been traded to Miami—they could try again this year. Teven Jenkins is an ideal fit as a powerful run-blocking right tackle, ideal for paving the way for Derrick Henry.
Pick #23 New York Jets – Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
Assuming the Jets take a quarterback with the second pick, expect new head coach Robert Saleh to push for defensive help with this selection. Significant upgrades are needed on the edge, as Jordan Jenkins and Tarell Basham (both free agents) have failed to establish themselves as dangerous pass-rushers.
Pick #24 Pittsburgh Steelers – Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
Pittsburgh is in a mini-rebuilding mode, so there are many directions they could go with this selection. Historically, GM Kevin Colbert tends to play it safe in the early rounds of the draft, and landing the consensus number-one interior lineman would be very on-brand for him and the Steelers.
Pick #25 Jacksonville Jaguars – Joseph Ossai – EDGE – Texas
Despite drafting pass-rushers Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson in consecutive years, Jacksonville still ranked 28th in pressure rate last season. The Jaguars have unique insight into Joseph Ossai, as their secondary coach, Chris Ash, was his defensive coordinator last season at Texas. Ash was also Urban Meyer’s defensive coordinator at Ohio State, so Meyer is more likely to trust Ash’s opinion over others he may be working with for the first time.
Pick #26 Cleveland Browns – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
The Browns have not invested in linebackers in recent years and appear to be among the teams who believe it isn’t a high-priority position. However, they also don’t have many holes to fill, and they need someone to chase Lamar Jackson around twice per year. If the right prospect is available—and the ultra-athletic Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah probably qualifies—they might feel it’s a justified move given their current roster situation.
Pick #27 Baltimore Ravens – Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
Baltimore’s top four leaders in QB pressures are set to hit the free agent market. Hopefully some return, but it’s unlikely they can afford everyone. Adding to that group through the draft would be a cheap way to maintain a high talent level on the unit.
Pick #28 New Orleans Saints – Aaron Robinson, CB, UCF
Aaron Robinson’s extensive experience in man coverage makes him an ideal fit in New Orleans, who played man at the highest rate in the league in 2020.
Pick #29 Green Bay Packers – Greg Newsome, CB, Northwestern
Greg Newsome’s draft stock skyrocketed in 2020 and he likely solidified himself as one of the top cornerback prospects on most draft boards with a 4.38 40-yard dash and 40-inch vertical at his pro day. The Packers heavily favored zone coverage last season, as did new DC Joe Barry with the Rams, so Newsome’s limited experience in man coverage shouldn’t an issue in Green Bay.
Pick #30 Buffalo Bills – Wyatt Davis, OG, Ohio State
Excluding carries inside the 10-yard line, Bills running backs ranked 28th in the league in yards before contact per attempt, according to Sports Info Solutions. That’s an indication of poor blocking, and GM Brandon Beane has hinted that could be an offseason emphasis. Ohio State’s Wyatt Davis or Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood stand out as two potential upgrades in that area.
Pick #31 Kansas City Chiefs – Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame
After releasing both LT Eric Fisher and RT Mitchell Schwartz, the Chiefs offensive line is a mess. Liam Eichenberg was a three-year starter at left tackle at Notre Dame and probably among the prospects best suited to start right away and contribute on a contender.
Pick #32 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
Most teams are no longer considering running backs in the first round, but we have seen contenders look for immediate upgrades at the position, like Kansas City last year with Clyde Edwards-Helaire. With relatively few holes to fill, Tampa could justify a similar move. Najee Harris, North Carolina’s Javonte Williams, and Clemson’s Travis Etienne are all possibilities.