It’s a matter of days until the draft – it’s a good time for a 2021 NFL mock draft…
We’re edging closer to a new era in the NFL. At least, that’s what fanbases believe before the draft every year. Fans, podcasters, and sports radio show hosts have been practically foaming at the mouth for weeks, pleading with their teams to take the player they ‘guarantee’ will be a star, or avoid someone they believe is a sure-fire bust. GMs, Head Coaches, and scouts have been gathering every shred of evidence on 1st round prospects. They want the next face of a franchise, a cornerstone of a new era they can claim to have ushered into existence.
Except Les Snead. He hasn’t been interested in the 1st round of the draft since 2016.
Nevertheless, the draft is a time when the biggest sport in the US does the least US thing possible: It provides a socialist response to a capitalist problem. The worst teams get the first choices at the best young players, while the more successful teams must wait their turn. A fair and wholly un-American system.
The opportunity for the worst teams to immediately improve is what makes the NFL great. If a team performs poorly, they can reverse their fortunes and quickly return to competitiveness. It’s a moment of luck for these teams, with the caveat of admitting your past failures.
This year brings a hyped Quarterback class, some potentially legendary offensive pieces, and quality of depth in multiple positions. Here’s how I believe it will go if there were no trades on the night:
1. Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
It’s the most obvious pick in this draft. Lawrence is possibly the best Quarterback prospect since John Elway, and has bought into Jacksonville. He has already donated $20,000 to charities in the city, and has apparently been given the team’s playbook to learn. Urban Meyer wants him ready as soon as possible.
Lawrence has all the tools needed to be a franchise Quarterback. He has size, arm, accuracy, and can read the field really well and with speed. He is also more athletic than he gets credit for. It would be an absolutely seismic shock if Lawrence was not the first overall pick in the NFL Draft.
2. Jets – Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
The common belief now is that the draft starts at no.3, so sure is everyone that the Jets will take Wilson here.
They just traded Sam Darnold away, so a Quarterback that resets the rookie contract clock is a no-brainer. Wilson is a guy that can get the fanbase excited.
Passing grade from a clean pocket since 2016:
⚠️ 1. Justin Fields – 95.4
2. Mac Jones – 94.8
3. Joe Burrow – 94.5
4. Zach Wilson – 94.1
4. Kyler Murray – 94.1 pic.twitter.com/p3TBwZTfRl
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 16, 2021
Wilson has an arm to make every throw possible, and has the mobility and feet to avoid sacks. He would fit the West Coast scheme Offensive Coordinator Mike LaFleur will bring to New York. His accuracy, production (33 passing TDs to 3 INTs in 2020), and ability to make throws off platform will be huge at the NFL level, even if his size (6’2”, 214lbs) isn’t the biggest for the league. Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, and Kyler Murray have largely dispelled the myths of size being essential to success in the NFL.
3. 49ers – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
After recent mocks had Mac Jones going to the Bay Area, things have started swinging back towards Fields. He would be an excellent fit for Kyle Shanahan’s offence. Think back to 2012, when Robert Griffin III electrified the league under Shanahan as OC. Fields adds an athletic dimension to the offensive scheme that neither Jones or Jimmy Garoppolo can.
Fields can extend plays with his legs, even though he is primarily a thrower with an excellent arm.
The concerns about his ability to go through his reads are largely traced back to the offensive system at Ohio State, where they often live and die by the first read’s ability to get open. Fields does have some issues (avoiding contact and turnovers), but Shanahan can minimize them. The 49ers Head Coach has done well to maximize what he can from Garoppolo. Fields would be another level.
4. Falcons – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
Everyone who has watched tape on Kyle Pitts waxes lyrical about him, and for good reason. Pitts is considered a ‘Unicorn’, a total mismatch for anyone who attempts to defend him. He’s too big for Corners, too fast and athletic for Linemen and Linebackers. Pitts can also play out wide if necessary, and would be a top 3 Wide Receiver in this draft were he rated solely on his receiving abilities.
Highest-graded player in 2020
🐊 Kyle Pitts – 96.2pic.twitter.com/5bbrBMXF5x
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 13, 2021
With all their defensive holes, the Falcons could be prime to trade down here. However in this mock draft, they stay put and add another weapon for Matt Ryan. Seeing Pitts with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mike Davis is a scary thought for NFC South defences.
5. Bengals – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
This pick can go one of two ways: Sewell, the best offensive lineman in the draft, or Ja’Marr Chase, Joe Burrow’s favourite target at LSU. Here the Bengals decide to protect Burrow after watching him run for his life last year.
While Chase is a tempting prospect, a franchise Left Tackle to protect a franchise Quarterback is exactly what the Bengals should do the continue their rebuild.
Chase is the best Receiver in this class, but the gap between him and the best potential prospect at Cincinnati’s 2nd round selection (no. 38) is smaller than the gap between Sewell and the tackles at the same spot.
6. Dolphins – Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
You get the feeling that the Dolphins would be happy with any of the three between Pitts, Sewell and Chase. After all, they moved down to no.12 in a trade with the 49ers, only to move back up in an exchange with the Eagles.
Chase gives Tua Tagovailoa a legitimate no.1 Receiver. He has speed, can dominate at the catch, and runs routes beautifully.
7. Lions – DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
This pick is one of necessity, as the Lions lost their two best Receivers in the offseason. Kenny Golladay headed to the Giants while Marvin Jones left for Jacksonville. The Lions need to replenish their core group for new Quarterback Jared Goff, and Smith gets them started in a big way.
Smith, the 2020 Heisman winner, is an incredible pass catcher.
With his long arms he has a massive catch radius, and his route running is well advanced. He evades press coverages with his quickness and is stronger than you think. The major concern is his frame and weight (170 lbs), but to this point he has been durable and remained injury-free. Smith is a playmaker.
8. Panthers – Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
Some consider Slater more polished than Sewell, and it’s not hard to see why.
Slater is physical with his hands and he can pop out of his stance quickly to cut off rushes. He also understands how to drop his hips for better leverage against power rushes.
6. QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
7. QB Zach Wilson, BYU
8. OT Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
9. WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama
10. WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 9, 2021
He does have shorter arms than normal for an NFL Tackle, and must learn to be less eager with his hands. However, Slater would be an excellent blindside protector for Sam Darnold, who the Panthers must now go all-in on to see if he can be ‘The Guy’. With Slater, Darnold will have the protection to give him the time to utilize his many offensive weapons in Carolina.
9. Broncos – Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
John Elway ends the Drew Lock era by bringing in Mac Jones, who led Alabama to a national championship with an explosive offence. Jones has accuracy and a feel for the pocket, and he doesn’t tend to turn the ball over. While he’s not the 6’5” behemoth Elway normally falls in love with, Jones is more than capable of leading a Broncos offence that is crying out for goof QB play.
Jones is noted for his competitiveness and leadership, but he played on a stacked Alabama offence in a spread scheme, so he made need time to adjust.
His arm strength isn’t anything above average, and he has the same number of college starts as Trey Lance, which scouts saw as a drawback for the North Dakota State QB. Jones can still be a successful starter at the NFL level.
Turn to page 2 below for the next 10 picks in our 2021 NFL Mock Draft…