Kevin Hanson's 2021 NFL Mock Draft 9.0
BY KEVIN HANSON (@EDSFootball)
Updated: Thursday, April 22nd
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It's been another unusual draft season, but we are now days (not weeks) away from the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland.
Several prospects including Mac Jones, Trey Lance, Kyle Pitts, Ja'Marr Chase and others have already accepted invites to attend.
Similar to other years, some potential early picks (such as Ohio State's Chris Olave) have returned to school. But the depth of the overall draft class may be much more thin than usual.
Kayln Kahler recently highlighted just how thin by referencing the (relatively low) number of prospects that have signed standard representation agreements (SRAs) with NFL agents.
Over the past three years, here are the number of prospects that have signed SRAs through mid-April:
- 2021 NFL Draft: 657 (as of April 7th)
- 2020 NFL Draft: 1,839 (mid-April)
- 2019 NFL Draft: 1,972 (mid-April)
"You are going to see some PFAs [priority free agents, or the top tier of undrafted prospects] going in round 6 and 7 this year," said NFL agent Christian Kranz, of Generation Sports Group (via Kahler). "Next year there are going to be 2000 or more kids in the draft, so guys who would go in 6 and 7 [this year] are going to be low-money camp bodies [next year] because the talent is going to be so rich."
While I've projected a couple of trades in this mock, it may be smart for teams to attempt to accumulate future-year (2022) picks when making draft-day trades this year.
NFL Mock Draft - Round 1
Since stepping onto Clemson's campus as the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2018 recruiting cycle, Lawrence has been the presumptive top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Even though no team has won fewer games over the past decade, this marks the first time in franchise history that the Jags own the rights to the top pick in the draft.
No prospect is perfect, but Lawrence checks all of the boxes with elite arm talent, mobility and leadership. Not only will the Urban Meyer era begin with the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck, but the team has a treasure trove of draft capital -- nine picks in the first five rounds (top 170) to give the overall roster a major boost.
Even before the Jets traded Sam Darnold to the Panthers, it was a foregone conclusion that the Jets would draft a quarterback at No. 2 overall. While the franchise didn't put a strong supporting cast around Darnold, they are loaded with draft picks over the next two years to put Wilson in a position to flourish. In the 2021 and 2022 drafts combined, the Jets have 10 picks in the first three rounds -- four first-rounders, three second-rounders and three third-rounders.
Appearing on the Dan Patrick Show, former NFL quarterback and current analyst 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." On top of lofty comparisons to HOF/MVP-caliber quarterbacks, Simms actually ranks Wilson ahead of Lawrence. Talented enough to be the No. 1 pick in most years, the BYU quarterback's meteoric rise this draft cycle has been similar to Joe Burrow's in last year's draft.
The first two picks of the draft are essential locks. Based on odds from DraftKings, Trevor Lawrence to the Jaguars is -10,000 and Wilson to the Jets is -5,000. After those presumed picks, the draft gets more fun (and/or challenging) when it comes to trying to project how the draft dominoes will fall.
While the position (quarterback) is a certainty, the actual quarterback is much less of a certainty. A case could be made for any of Mac Jones (+100), Justin Fields (+100) or Trey Lance (+400) and don't be surprised if this is a different pick in my final mock next week. Personally, I would select Fields if I were making this pick, but I am still leaning towards Jones being the pick.
There have been reports earlier this month about Atlanta's willingness to trade back. It's certainly possible (and even wise) that they draft their quarterback of the future here, but being open to a move back signals that they might be unwilling to push their chips into the middle of the table for the QB4/QB5.
The 20-year-old 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. And while he's technically a tight end, Pitts profiles as a player capable of dominating any defender lined up across from him.
Kyle Pitts' PFF grade when lined up as a WR and covered by CBs: 92.8— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) March 31, 2021
He's a potentially unstoppable pass catcher at any receiving position.
Unless the Bengals trade back with a team coming up for Trey Lance or Justin Fields, the Bengals will most likely debate the two prospects -- Ja'Marr Chase or Penei Sewell -- that have been most associated with them throughout the draft process. A case could be made either way, but the Bengals are fortunate that the talent in the OT and WR classes could land them a Round 1-caliber prospect in the second round at the position they don't address at No. 5.
Former LSU teammate Justin Jefferson is coming off a 1,400-yard rookie season in 2020, but it was Chase that operated as the alpha in LSU's receiving corps when the duo last played together. The 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner as a 19-year-old true sophomore would have been the WR1 had he been eligible to join last year's talent-laden crop of wide receivers.
Proposed trade: DEN sends No. 9 overall and their 2022 second-rounder to MIA to move up to No. 6.
If the Falcons pass on a quarterback and Fields falls to this point, it makes sense for George Paton to be aggressive and move up. During the 10 drafts with John Elway as general manager, the team has taken a quarterback in Round 1 or 2 three times -- Brock Osweiler (2012, Round 2), Paxton Lynch (2016, Round 1) and Drew Lock (2019, Round 2) -- but that remains the missing piece for this offense.
Even if 2020 was a bit of an up-and-down season for Fields, who at times tried to do too much, he showed tremendous toughness and leadership in Ohio State's semifinal win over Clemson as he threw for 385 yards and six touchdowns. A two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, the dual-threat quarterback accounted for 78 total touchdowns -- 63 passing and 15 rushing -- while throwing only nine interceptions over 22 games as Ohio State's starter.
PFF Grade on throws past 1st read since 2019: (min. 60 attempts)— PFF (@PFF) April 2, 2021
1st - Justin Fields - 90.6
2nd - Zach Wilson - 90.1
3rd - Trey Lance - 87.2
7th - Trevor Lawrence - 78.6
8th - Mac Jones - 75.7 pic.twitter.com/CEWpY86rwC
With Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and others signing elsewhere, Quintez Cephus (35/349/2) is the team's top returning receiver. Even though the team signed Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman to one-year deals, wide receiver arguably remains the team's biggest need heading into the draft.
Not the biggest receiver, Waddle is one of the most explosive athletes in the draft and extremely 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) outgained (the eventual Heisman Trophy winner) DeVonta Smith (483) through the first four games of the season.
This is the latest that Sewell has been available in any of my mocks, but if he's available here (and the Panthers don't also trade back for a team targeting Trey Lance), this pick makes too much sense. The Panthers used their franchise tag on right tackle Taylor Moton and Greg Little is currently projected to start at left tackle with 32-year-old Russell Okung now a free agent. 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.
Proposed trade: DEN sends No. 9 overall and their 2022 second-rounder to DET to move up to No. 7.
Other than his slight frame (6-0, 166), what is not to like about Smith? An outstanding route-runner, the sure-handed receiver has been been uber-productive 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 a first-rounder. Despite the star-studded receiving corps in Tuscaloosa, 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 the FBS in receptions (117) and yards (1,856) and was second in touchdowns (23).
If the draft plays out this way, the Cowboys would have their choice of defensive prospects and they would make history in the process. Since 1967 (common draft era), the latest the first defensive prospect has ever been selected in a given draft was 1999 (Champ Bailey, seventh).
While the defense needs upgrades at all three levels, Surtain could be the top-ranked defensive prospect on the Cowboys board (as he is on our NFL Draft Big Board). A three-year starter and the 2020 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Surtain II is a technically sound and patient cornerback with NFL bloodlines as well as the size (6-2, 208), length and ball skills that new coordinator Dan Quinn will covet.
Proposed trade: NE sends No. 15 overall and their 2022 second-rounder to NYG to move up to No. 15.
Wait, what? Dave Gettleman and the Giants trading back? Per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, it's "something they are internally considering." Meanwhile, Bill Belichick has hinted at a willingness to move up a few spots if someone (most likely a quarterback) falls further than they expect.
The Patriots re-signed Cam Newton to a one-year deal, but Lance provides Belichick, Josh McDaniels & Co. with a long-term option that may need a year to adjust to the jump in competition. While Lance played only one game in 2020 and all 17 of his career starts were against FCS-level competition, the dual-threat quarterback accounted for 48 touchdowns -- 30 passing and 18 rushing -- and threw only one interception in his collegiate career and he arguably has as much upside as any quarterback in this draft class.
Having moved back six spots, it's possible that the Eagles could have expected one of the top four pass-catchers to still be available here. With all four of them off the board as well as Patrick Surtain II, Horn makes the most sense barring another move up/down the draft board.
The son of former Pro Bowl receiver Joe Horn, Jaycee excels in press-man coverage due to his size, physical playing style (perhaps too physical at times?) and competitive demeanor. He helped his case with a strong performance at South Carolina's Pro Day -- 4.39 forty, 41.5" vertical and 11'1" broad jump -- and he's widely expected to be the second corner off the board.
Outside the Chargers range in each of the past three iterations of this mock draft, Slater will be strongly considered by the Panthers (8th), Cowboys (10th) and Giants (if they don't trade back from 11th). If he's still available here, however, this is such a natural team-prospect pairing.
The Chargers hit a home run with Justin Herbert, reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, but the team's offensive line has been a perennial issue. In fact, no team ranked lower than the Chargers (32nd) in PFF's end-of-season offensive line rankings.
Signing Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler and Oday Aboushi in free agency is a good start to address the problem. With Trey Pipkins projected as the team's starting left tackle, however, there is still work to be done. His critics may point to lack of ideal size or length, but Slater has the feet to thrive at tackle and the versatility to line up anywhere along the line.
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 Ngakoue still led the team with five sacks and Hunter is unhappy with his contract.
It was an atypical journey for Phillips from the nation's top high school recruit to potential first-round pick. After briefly "retiring" from football and transferring to Miami from UCLA, everything came together for the gifted edge rusher as he recorded eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss over 10 games in his lone season in Coral Gables.
Proposed trade: NE sends No. 15 overall and their 2022 second-rounder to NYG to move up to No. 15.
While I also considered Kwity Paye here, it's possible that Parsons is the top-ranked player on Gettleman's board at this spot. Parsons is a versatile, three-down linebacker that uses his athleticism (sub-4.4 forty at 246 pounds), length and instincts to impact the game against the run, in coverage and as a blitzer.
With Patrick Peterson, Dre Kirkpatrick and Johnathan Joseph no longer on the roster, the Cardinals have signed Malcolm Butler and (cut and then) re-signed Robert Alford to one-year deals. In other words, cornerback remains one of the team's bigger needs heading into the draft. While he has missed multiple games every year at Northwestern, Newsome is scheme-diverse with excellent speed (sub-4.4 forty) and fluidity.
Continue to 2021 NFL Mock Draft 9.0: Picks 17-32
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