2021 NFL Mock Draft 5.0
BY KEVIN HANSON (@EDSFootball)
Updated: Friday, March 12th
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The official start to the new NFL league year (and free agency) is Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET, but the "legal tampering" period period begins on Monday.
Starting then, teams can negotiate with representatives of free agents. On the other side of that, many teams have already made some cost-cutting moves by releasing players and/or restructuring existing contracts.
This week, there were 10 free agents-to-be that were designated with the franchise tag and therefore won't reach free agency next week.
For those in search of a new home, the significantly reduced salary cap could make it difficult for them to obtain as lucrative of a deal as they might have expected otherwise. That could possibly skew deals towards the short(er) term.
Either way, one thing is certain: The next version of this mock draft could look a lot different after the dust of the free-agency period settles.
NFL Mock Draft - Round 1
Over the past decade, no team has won fewer games than the Jaguars (44). Despite their franchise futility, this marks the first draft in team history that the Jaguars own the rights to the first overall pick and the timing couldn't be better.
The presumptive No. 1 overall pick in 2021 for several years now, Lawrence is a generational talent that is arguably the best quarterback prospect to enter the league since Andrew Luck. Not only do the Jaguars have the opportunity to draft a franchise quarterback at No. 1, they have multiple picks in four of the first five rounds of the draft and no team enters free agency with more available cap space, per Over the Cap.
In other words, it's unlikely that the Jaguars will rank last in wins over the previous decade when we look back 10 years from now.
Sam Darnold won't turn 24 until June and the coaching staff hasn't put him in a position to succeed, but he has also struggled with durability and hasn't shown that he's the long-term answer. Stated differently, Darnold hasn't shown enough in three years to prevent Joe Douglas & Co. from resetting at the most important position in sports.
Enjoying a pre-draft rise similar to that of Joe Burrow last year, Wilson uses his athleticism to make and extend plays and is especially accurate throwing downfield. Appearing on the Dan Patrick Show, Chris Simms said, "I'm blown away by Zach Wilson, Dan. You know I look at it, and look at, and say this is an Aaron Rodgers, a Patrick Mahomes, Brett Favre-ish type guy."
Anyone scanning the first pick column of our NFL Mock Draft Database will see only one prospect's name (Trevor Lawrence) since last May. With that said, many evaluators view Wilson as worthy of being the No. 1 overall pick in a typical year and some (most notably Simms) even have ranked Wilson as the QB1 in the class.
Opting out in 2020, Chase, the 2019 Biletnikoff Award recipient, would have been the WR1 had he been eligible to join last year's talent-laden crop of wide receivers. As a true sophomore and a 19-year-old, Chase dominated SEC competition to the tune of 84 receptions for 1,780 yards (21.2 Y/R) and 20 touchdowns. Not only did he lead the country in yardage and touchdowns, no receiver had more 15-yard receptions (46) or 25-yard receptions (25) than Chase in 2019.
It was an up-and-down season for Fields, but he showed tremendous leadership and toughness in the semifinal win over Clemson as he threw for 385 yards and six touchowns in that game. A two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, the dual-threat quarterback has accounted for 78 total touchdowns -- 63 passing and 15 rushing -- while throwing only nine interceptions over 22 games as Ohio State's starter. Fields, who is from the Atlanta area, will have an opportunity to learn behind Matt Ryan in 2021 and potentially allow the franchise to switch gears in 2022.
Whether accomplished via free agency and/or the draft, upgrading the offensive line needs to be one of Cincinnati's top offseason priorities. 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. If Sewell lasts until No. 5, the No. 2 prospect on our 2021 NFL Draft Big Board should be a no-brainer selection.
NFL Network's Mike Silver has recently reported that "a deal could happen in the coming days" for tight end Zach Ertz as teams inquire about his availability. Slotting a wide receiver here in previous iterations of this mock draft, I have Pitts ranked as the next-best pass-catcher after LSU's Ja'Marr Chase and a top-five player overall. A playmaker in the mold of Darren Waller, Pitts won the John Mackey Award, given to the nation's top tight end, as he finished the abbreviated 2020 season with 43 catches for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Proposed trade: SF sends No. 12 overall and their 2022 second-rounder to DET to move up to No. 7.
The 49ers went 13-3 in 2019 and reached the Super Bowl with Jimmy Garoppolo under center, but that was also the only year that he has played more than six games.
While Lance is making the jump from only 17 career games -- including just one in 2020 -- against FCS-level competition, the dual-threat quarterback has accounted for 48 touchdowns -- 30 passing and 18 rushing -- and threw only one interception over his collegiate career. Putting a quarterback with Lance's unique skill set into Kyle Shanahan's offense offers the 49ers unreal long-term upside.
Taking the reigns from Tua Tagovailoa, the fifth pick in 2020, Jones really hit the ground running in 2020 as he completed 77.4% of his pass attempts and threw for 4,500 yards (11.2 Y/A), 41 touchdowns and four interceptions last season. While Jones may lack the arm strength and athleticism that the top-four quarterback prospects possess, he makes quick reads and throws with outstanding accuracy and touch.
Coaching him at the Senior Bowl gives the Panthers' coaches unique insight into Jones as a prospect and that could carry even more weight than usual given this atypical pre-draft process.
The Broncos have once again used their franchise tag on safety Justin Simmons, but cornerback is one of the team's bigger offseason needs. Not only did they release cornerback A.J. Bouye last month, but Bryce Callahan is entering a contract year. The top-ranked cornerback on our NFL Draft Big Board, Farley (6-2, 207) had four interceptions and 12 passes defended in 2019 before opting out this season.
Two of the team's top four corners -- Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie -- are scheduled to become free agents next week when the new league year begins. The 2020 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Surtain II has an NFL pedigree (father was a three-time Pro Bowl CB that also coached him in high school) with outstanding size (6-2, 202) and length that new coordinator Dan Quinn will covet.
Not the biggest receiver, Waddle is one of the most explosive athletes in the draft and is dynamic in the open field. With Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs off to the NFL, Waddle started the year with four 100-yard games before breaking his ankle. In fact, Waddle (557 receiving yards) outproduced DeVonta Smith (483) through the first four games of the season.
The Lions have signed Tyrell Williams, who missed all of 2020, to a one-year contract this week, but many of the team's top receivers -- Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Mohamed Sanu and Jamal Agnew -- are unrestricted free agents as well. In this scenario, the Lions still get the same prospect I mocked to them in my 2021 NFL Mock Draft 4.0, but they add a 2022 second-rounder in the process.
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 Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy as first-round receivers. This year, he'll join teammate Jaylen Waddle as first-rounders.
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 with the injury to Waddle as he led FBS in receptions (117) and yards (1,856) and is second in touchdowns (23).
Quarterback Justin Herbert was a home run selection last year as the 2020 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, but the team's offensive line issues need to be fixed to protect their young star signal-caller. In fact, no team ranked lower than the Chargers (32nd) in PFF's end-of-season offensive line rankings.
Detractors may point to a lack of length, but if you watch Slater's tape against (former) Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young, it's easy to project his ability to hold his own outside against NFL-caliber edge rushers. Even if he kicks inside, Slater's addition to the Chargers offensive line would be a big step towards upgrading the unit.
In the previous iteration of this mock, Virginia Tech offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw was the pick. With the Vikings cutting Riley Reiff in a move to clear cap space, Darrisaw remains a possibility here.
Trading for Yannick Ngakoue before the 2020 season, the Vikings should have had a dynamic 1-2 pass-rush duo with Danielle Hunter and Ngakoue. Not only did Hunter miss all of 2020, but the Vikings traded away Ngakoue only six games into his Minnesota tenure. Even so, the short-term Viking still led the team with five sacks.
The nation's former top high school recruit, Phillips had eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss over 10 games in his only season with the Hurricanes after unretiring from football and transferring from UCLA.
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 Parsons is. The versatile, three-down linebacker was a first-team AP All-American in 2019 and uses his athleticism, length and instincts to impact the game against the run, in coverage and as a blitzer.
Once again, I have Horn slotted here as matching the prospect with the team and draft slot just make too much sense. With Patrick Peterson, Dre Kirkpatrick and Johnathan Joseph hitting free agency and the team cutting Robert Alford, the Cardinals will need to add corners via the draft and/or free agency that can contribute right away. Horn, son of former Pro Bowl receiver Joe Horn, excels in press-man coverage due to his size, physical playing style and a competitive demeanor.
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