2021 NFL Mock Draft 2.0
BY KEVIN HANSON (@EDSFootball)
Updated: Friday, January 15th
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Several high-profile prospects, such as Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and Alabama's DeVonta Smith, have already declared for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, the deadline for underclassmen to petition for special eligibility must do so by Monday (Jan. 18th) and the league will send the list of players to teams on Friday (Jan. 22nd).
Following such an unusual year, seniors will have until March 1st to notify the league if they plan to return to school.
With the NCAA granting a fifth year of college football eligibility, the NFL informed clubs this morning that players who have completed four years must notify the league by March 1 if they intend to forego the 2021 NFL Draft and return to college, per sources.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) January 14, 2021
With that said, the following is our updated 2021 NFL mock draft.
NFL Mock Draft - Round 1
Losers of 15 consecutive games, the Jaguars leave 2020 as the winners of the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. Believe it or not, Jacksonville has never owned the rights to the top pick despite picking inside the top 10 in all but one draft since 2008.
Lawrence, the presumptive top pick for several years, is arguably the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck and this will be an easy decision as the team transitions into a new era. Including the opportunity to draft a franchise-changing quarterback at the top of the draft, the Jaguars have a total of nine picks through the first five rounds in addition to a league-high available cap space in 2021.
With so many positions in need of upgrade on their roster, the Jets could look to trade back a few spots with another QB-needy franchise. Although Sam Darnold hasn't yet shown that he's the long-term answer and he has missed three-plus games in all three seasons, the former top-three pick is only 23. Either Fields or BYU's Zach Wilson would be worthy of the No. 1 overall pick in any other year, but it's unclear at this point which quarterback Joe Douglas would prefer if he doesn't trade back.
Fields showed incredible toughness by how he played after James Skalski was ejected for targeting as he lit up a talented Clemson defense for 22-of-28 for 385 yards and six touchdowns in the semifinal game of the College Football Playoff. Although he wasn't as impressive against Alabama in the national championship, Fields has prototypical size (6-3, 225), elite athleticism and the arm strength to make all of the throws. The dual-threat quarterback has thrown 63 touchdowns to only nine interceptions and added 15 rushing touchdowns in his two seasons as Ohio State's starter.
Like with Justin Fields and Zach Wilson as QB2, there will be plenty of debate between Chase and Alabama's DeVonta Smith as WR1 in 2021. Even though Chase opted out in 2020, the 2019 Biletnikoff Award recipient would have been the WR1 had he been eligible to declare with last year's talent-laden crop of wide receivers.As a true sophomore, Chase had 84 receptions for 1,780 yards (21.2 Y/R) and 20 touchdowns. Not only did he lead the country in yardage and touchdown, no receiver had more 15-yard receptions (46) or 25-yard receptions (25) than Chase in 2019.
Per Spotrac, Matt Ryan (22.99%) will account for nearly one-quarter of the team's 2021 salary cap. While the new regime could go in a number of different directions, this will be the first time that the team will pick inside the top four since they selected Ryan third overall in 2008.
Barring a trade, this scenario would allow Wilson the opportunity to serve as Ryan's apprentice for a season. Charted by PFF with the lowest rate of turnover-worthy plays this season, Wilson uses his mobility to make and extend plays and is accurate throwing downfield.
Upgrading the offensive line needs to be one of the team's top offseason priorities and this represents an ideal draft-day scenario for the Bengals. While Sewell opted out of the 2020 season, the 2019 first-team AP All-American was dominant in his true-sophomore campaign and won't turn 21 until October.
Other than his slight frame (6-1, 175), what is not to like about Smith? An outstanding route-runner, the sure-handed receiver has been been uber-productive over the past two years.
If Smith had declared last year, he would have joined teammates Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy as first-round receivers. This year, he'll join teammate Jaylen Waddle as a first-rounder. Despite the star-studded receiving corps, it was Smith that led the team in receiving yards (1,256) and touchdowns (14) last season. This year, the Heisman Trophy winner really stepped up, especially given the injury to Waddle, as he led FBS in receptions (117) and yards (1,856) and is second in touchdowns (23).
Even though the team drafted Jalen Reagor in the first round in 2020, it wouldn't be a surprise if they went back to the well in 2021 with a talent like Smith.
The best available prospect on my big board in this mock, Parsons is a rare athlete. Given that we don't know what the next regime will prefer, going BPA at this point seems reasonable.
Before opting out of the 2020 college season, there was a moment where the 244-pound linebacker was listed as Penn State's top kick returner. Even if perhaps by mistake, that highlights the type of athlete that the first-team All-American (2019) is. Parsons uses his athleticism, length and instincts to impact the game against the run, in coverage and as a blitzer.
In Matt Rhule's first draft with the Panthers, it was all defense (literally). In the previous iteration of this mock, I slotted Northwestern's Rashawn Slater here. With Russell Okung and Taylor Moton set to become free agents in March, that remains a possibility as does a potential long-term upgrade (Trey Lance) of Teddy Bridgewater.
The winner of the John Mackey Award, given to college football's top tight end, Pitts is in the mold of Darren Waller and a mismatch for opposing defenses. In eight games, Pitts had 43 catches for 770 yards (17.9 Y/R) and 12 touchdowns.
Cornerbacks Bryce Callahan and A.J. Bouye are entering contract years. Suspended for the first four games of 2021 and with no guaranteed money remaining on his contract, Bouye is not a roster lock for 2021. The 2020 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Surtain II has an NFL pedigree (father was a three-time Pro Bowl CB) with elite size and length (6-2, 202).
Two of the team's top four corners -- Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie -- are scheduled to become free agents in March. Along with Alabama's Surtain, Farley is in the mix to be the first corner off the board in April. Farley (6-2, 207) had four interceptions and 12 passes defended in 2019 before opting out this season.
Not only is the team's top pass-rusher (Leonard Williams, 11.5 sacks) a free agent-to-be, but nose tackle Dexter Williams ranked second on the team in sacks (four).
Unlike last year with Chase Young, there isn't a slam-dunk top edge defender in this draft. Both Rousseau and Michigan's Kwity Paye will fight for that honor, but Rousseau has outstanding length and burst and was second in the nation in sacks (15.5) in 2019 behind only Ohio State's Young (16.5) before opting out of the 2020 season.
While Jimmy Garoppolo has two years remaining on his contract, there is no guaranteed money left on his deal. Durability has been an issue with Garoppolo, but he has been little more than a "game manager" when on the field.
Given the pandemic, NDSU played only one game in Lance's redshirt sophomore season, but he has an intriguing set of dual-threat skills. Over 17 career games, Lance has accounted for 48 touchdowns -- 30 passing and 18 rushing -- and thrown only one interception.
While the Chargers have hit a home run with rookie quarterback Justin Herbert, the offensive line has been a perennial need for the franchise. While most analysts view Oregon's Penei Sewell as the top offensive line prospect, Daniel Jeremiah, former NFL scout and current Chargers color commentator, ranks Slater as his top offensive line prospect in 2021.
While I have those two swapped in my OL rankings, Slater could be off the board much earlier than this. Even if he lacks ideal length and may eventually kick inside, the way he held his own against Chase Young last year suggests that he can more than hold up at tackle at the next level.
The Vikings traded for Yannick Ngakoue and then traded him away after he played only six games with Minnesota. Even so, Ngakoue, now in Baltimore, led the Vikings in sacks (five) this season.
Not only is Paye an outstanding run defender, but his elite athletic profile gives him enormous upside as a pass-rusher. Topping Bruce Feldman's annual college football freaks list, Paye runs a 4.57 forty and his 3-cone time (6.37) would have been the best time at last year's combine.
In the previous iteration of this mock, I slotted one of Jones' top weapons (Jaylen Waddle) at Alabama to the Patriots, who need to add play-makers to an offense devoid of them. That said, Jones took over for Tua Tagovailoa, the fifth pick in 2020, and really hit the ground running in 2020 after getting a few starts following Tua's injury in 2019.
Facing only SEC competition before Notre Dame and Ohio State in the College Football Playoff, Jones completed 77.4% of his pass attempts and thrown for 4,500 yards (11.2 Y/A), 41 touchdowns and four interceptions this year and was even better in the College Football Playoff as he completed 81.3% of his pass attempts for 761 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions.
While he returned for the national championship game, Waddle (ankle) was clearly less than 100%. An underrated route-runner and dynamic playmaker due to his combination of elite speed and elusiveness, Waddle was off to a great start -- at least 120 yards in his four games before breaking his ankle.
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