The 2021 NFL Draft is just days away and, unsurprisingly, the rumors and hot takes are swirling ahead of Thursday night! Which quarterback will the 49ers draft at No. 3 overall? Which teams will trade up (or down) in the first round? Who will your favorite team select? These are all questions I try to answer and more with this third and final version of my NFL Mock Draft for the first round! If you want to check out the previous versions of this mock, see how my picks have changed since Mock Draft 1.0 and Mock Draft 2.0 went live in the past couple weeks. Note that the “Previously” sections below refer to how those picks were made in the 2.0 mock. Without further ado, let’s dive in!
1) Jacksonville Jaguars -- Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Previously: Trevor Lawrence
Surprise, surprise! Trevor Lawrence has been locked into the No. 1 overall pick for nearly a full calendar year and the Jaguars will make it official on Thursday night. New head coach Urban Meyer starts his tenure in Jacksonville with Lawrence running the offense - just as he did the past three seasons at Clemson. With an NFL-ready body and mechanics, Lawrence enters this Draft as one of the best overall QB prospects in recent memory and should be the frontrunner for Offensive Rookie of the Year. The only mystery is how good he can be in Year 1 with the Jags.
2) New York Jets -- Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
Previously: Zach Wilson
Outside of Trevor Lawrence going to Jacksonville, the other sure thing in this Draft is Zach Wilson heading to New York. Although many scouts and analysts (including me) have other QBs rated higher, the Jets appear locked into the BYU gunslinger and have been for months. The offseason trade of Sam Darnold opens up an immediate need for quarterback, and Wilson would step right into a starting role. Though a bit undersized, he boasts an accurate, strong arm and showcased the ability to make smart football plays on the run while starring at BYU. The lack of collegiate competition is a slight worry, but Wilson’s raw skills and competitiveness are undeniable.
3) San Francisco 49ers (from MIA via HOU) -- Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Previously: Justin Fields
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport dropped a bit of news on Sunday evening when he reported the 49ers are deciding between Mac Jones and Trey Lance for this third overall pick. I’ve had Justin Fields mocked here previously, but that might not even be on the table for San Fran. Although Jones to SF has been the rumor for weeks now, Lance is the choice for me because of the higher ceiling. Though mostly unproven and unknown out of North Dakota State, Lance has the arm talent, athleticism and mental makeup that makes him the ideal high-risk, high-reward pick. Let’s not forget that Jimmy Garappolo is still on the roster. That makes me think the Niners would rather take a chance on Lance with a capable starter inJimmy G to fall back on. Jones might be safer, but his lack of scrambling ability is hard to ignore in an offense that could use more of a dual threat behind center.
4) Atlanta Falcons -- Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
Previously: Kyle Pitts
So we know three quarterbacks will be off the board when Atlanta gets on the clock - but it’s still a mystery as to what the Falcons do at this No. 4 pick. They could draft a QB to sit and learn behind Matt Ryan or trade back with a team desperate to move up. The third (and more likely) option would be to stand pat and lock in a top pass-catcher to make the Atlanta offense even more dangerous. It’s not often we see a tight end drafted in the top 10, but Kyle Pitts is a rare talent with receiving skills that rival any and all WR prospects in this class. The recent rumor that the Falcons could end up trading Julio Jones means grabbing a receiving weapon seems even more plausible. Having a red-zone threat like Pitts alongside Calvin Ridley would mean a Julio trade is something the franchise can live with.
5) Cincinnati Bengals -- Penei Sewell, OL, Oregon
Previously: Penei Sewell
As much as Joe Burrow would love to reunite with former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase, it’ll be hard for the Bengals to pass on the top offensive lineman here. Let’s not forget that Burrow just tore his ACL last season, and that simple, unfortunate fact should force Cincy’s hand in solidifying the O-line to protect the franchise QB. Although he sat out last season, Penei Sewell was a unanimous All-American in 2019 as Oregon’s left tackle protecting the blind side for Justin Herbert. Most have him pegged as the top offensive tackle in the draft, and the Bengals will need him to protect Burrow for years to come. Cincinnati can use its second round pick at No. 38 overall to grab a wide receiver instead of taking Chase here.
6) *PROJECTED TRADE* Denver Broncos (from MIA via PHI) -- Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Previously: Broncos trade up to No. 6 for Trey Lance
There has been buzz the last couple weeks that the Broncos could move up to draft a QB as direct competition to the incumbent Drew Lock . With three quarterbacks going in the first three picks, John Elway will get antsy - especially if Justin Fields is still on the board. The “experts” might nitpick his throwing reads and true starter potential, but Fields’ impressive combination of athleticism, running ability and accurate arm are hard to pass up. He’s got the big-game collegiate experience and proved his skills on the biggest stage. There’s no way Denver is content with Lock as the starter going into the season - and Fields could easily be the starter for Week 1.
7) Detroit Lions -- Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
Previously: Ja’Marr Chase
The Lions are a prime candidate to trade down if another team is willing to move up for a quarterback or offensive lineman. However, the opportunity for Detroit to grab a top receiver could be too good to pass up. Ja’Marr Chase would instantly become a top target for new QB Jared Goff following the offseason departures of Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones . Despite sitting out this past season, Chase is still viewed as the top WR prospect over both Alabama guys. In 2019, he led LSU in receiving yards (1,780) and receiving TDs (20) and formed a solid 1-2 punch with Justin Jefferson - and Chase probably would’ve been the first WR off the board this time a year ago.
8) Carolina Panthers -- Rashawn Slater, OL, Northwestern
Previously: Rashawn Slater
The Panthers could go QB if any of the top four are still available, but the recent trade for Sam Darnold makes that a lot less likely. Instead, Carolina bolsters the offensive line with arguably the best tackle prospect in the class. Despite sitting out last season, Rashawn Slater was a three-year starting left tackle at Northwestern and faced some tough Big Ten defensive lines throughout his college career. Scouts say he can play all along the O-line at the next level if teams need him at any of right/left tackle, guard or center. That versatility (not to mention talent) should make him an easy top 10 pick - and the Panthers would benefit from a stronger line to protect Darnold and block for star RB Christian McCaffrey for the short and long term.
9) *PROJECTED TRADE* Miami Dolphins (from DEN) -- Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Previously: Dolphins take Jaylen Waddle after trading down
After moving down from their original No. 6 spot, the Dolphins still have an opportunity to grab a top pass-catcher in the Draft. At Alabama, Waddle played in the same offense with Tua Tagovailoa and now the two reunite in Miami. In 2018-19 with Tua under center, Waddle compiled more than 70 receptions, 1,300 yards and 13 TDs with the Crimson Tide. If he didn’t get hurt last year, Waddle also could’ve easily finished with better stats than teammate DeVonta Smith. The Miami receiving corps has some young weapons, but Waddle would bring a different playmaking element and give Tagovailoa someone he’s comfortable throwing to.
10) Dallas Cowboys -- Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
Previously: Patrick Surtain II
As much as owner Jerry Jones would love to take another offensive playmaker, the Cowboys simply need a lot more help on the defensive side of the ball. They address the secondary here by grabbing arguably the best defensive player in the Draft. Patrick Surtain II, the son of a Pro Bowl cornerback, was a three-year starter in Alabama’s loaded defense and played against the best competition in the SEC. He excelled as a press man cover corner for the Tide and would start right away on whatever team takes him. At Dallas, he’d play opposite of former Bama teammate Trevon Diggs and bolster a shaky secondary.
11) New York Giants -- Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Previously: Micah Parsons
Though the Giants have been rumored as a possible trade-down team, they stay put and get some much-needed defensive help in the linebacking corps. At Penn State, Micah Parsons was only a one-year starter at linebacker but showed off the athleticism, speed and vision that can make him a three-down LB at the pro level. New York needs help on the defensive side of the ball and Parsons can either play on the edge as an outside backer or slot into the middle of a 3-4 base defense.
12) Philadelphia Eagles -- Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
Previously: Eagles trade down for OL; Cardinals draft Horn here after trading up
The easy thing would be to just predict a WR to the Eagles at this spot and move on. Although that is a team need, Philly fans would agree that their squad desperately needs secondary help if they want to be competitive in the near future. Jaycee Horn, the son of former NFL receiver Joe Horn, was a three-year starter at South Carolina and often shadowed opponents’ top wideouts across the formation. That’s a big deal in the SEC, a league with plenty of top receiver talent. Horn would be an immediate starter opposite Darius Slay if Philadelphia makes this pick - and then grabs a WR later in the draft.
13) Los Angeles Chargers -- Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC
Previously: Alijah Vera-Tucker
The Chargers have a proven, promising signal-caller in Justin Herbert and keeping him healthy should be the reason behind grabbing an offensive lineman here. Alijah Vera-Tucker started at both guard and left tackle at USC the last two seasons and has the versatility to play either position in the NFL. He’d probably be an immediate upgrade over Trey Pipkins on Herbert’s blind side for the near and long term. LAC is also a prime candidate to trade up if it wants one of the other top offensive tackles. With so much O-line talent in this first round, don’t be surprised if the Chargers want to trade down as well.
14) Minnesota Vikings -- Christian Darrisaw, OL, Virginia Tech
Previously: Christian Darrisaw
After losing Riley Reiff in free agency, the Vikings have an immediate hole on the starting offensive line, and they’ll look to fill it in the Draft. Christian Darrisaw is universally viewed as the third or fourth-best offensive tackle in the class and can play at either tackle or guard positions in the NFL. As a three-year starter at Virginia Tech, Darrisaw mostly lined up at left tackle and specifically excelled at zone blocking in a run-heavy scheme. Minnesota’s offense is built on a strong run game - and Darrisaw’s experience as a zone-blocker will help replace Reiff up front to keep this team in the playoff mix.
15) New England Patriots -- Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
Previously: Mac Jones
Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ failures in the draft over the last decade are well-documented to this point - but they have to make this year’s first-round pick count. Though some expect San Francisco to grab Mac Jones earlier, there’s still a decent chance he slips all the way down to New England - assuming they don’t move up to grab him or another QB. The Pats may have re-signed Cam Newton this offseason, but that’s not their long-term answer at quarterback. Instead, Jones will bring his championship-winning experience up North as Belichick and Co. try to get back to the playoffs.
16) *PROJECTED TRADE* Chicago Bears (from ARI) -- DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Previously: Bears draft Caleb Farley at original No. 20 pick
With DeVonta Smith falling down the board, the Bears don’t want to risk the reigning Heisman winner slipping to them at No. 20 overall. So, they move up to grab the Alabama receiver and form a strong WR duo with Allen Robinson as the top targets for new QB Andy Dalton . The Chicago front office is desperate to make a splash and grabbing Smith would certainly gain more approval from the fan base. This may be totally wrong predicting Smith to fall this far in the first round, but his size (or lack thereof) might be a bigger deal to NFL teams than we realize. I have him ranked firmly below both Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle in this WR class - and the Crimson Tide wideout and could easily fall this late with teams targeting other positions entirely.
17) Las Vegas Raiders -- Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami FL
Previously: Jaelan Phillips
Some recent Draft buzz tells us the Raiders could be targeting a pass-rusher in the first round to strengthen a D-line that also added Yannick Ngakoue this offseason. Jaelan Phillips was the No. 1 recruit in the 2017 high school class but had to briefly retire from football following a third concussion in college. Then, Phillips transferred to Miami from UCLA and his talent ceiling finally emerged this past season when he led the ‘Canes with 15.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks. His body type, athleticism and pure pass-rushing skill should make him a first-round pick - but his medical history could cause a slip down the board. The Raiders are the team that’s willing to take the risk.
18) Miami Dolphins -- Teven Jenkins, OL, Oklahoma State
Previously: Samuel Cosmi
After passing on offensive line with the first pick, Miami addresses that here to protect QB Tua Tagovailoa for the short and long term. Teven Jenkins was a four-year starter at Oklahoma State and primarily played the right tackle position - though he did play four O-line spots (not center) at some point in college. Though the Dolphins took O-line in the first and second round last season, you can never have too much depth at the position - and Miami wants to keep Tagovailoa upright as much as possible. Jenkins’ versatility to play multiple positions along the line should be valuable to a Dolphins team that needs to strengthen the offensive front.
19) Washington Football Team -- Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
Previously: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
Washington’s defense is pretty stacked already, but the linebacker position could use some help to sure up the last hole on the unit. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was the best player on Notre Dame’s elite defense last season - a unit that anchored the Irish’s college football Playoff appearance. He played a Rover hybrid position - similar to Isaiah Simmons from last year’s Draft class - and can be used in a variety of ways by NFL defenses. Owusu-Koramoah can play prototypical linebacker - but his versatility to cover tight ends, running backs or some receivers all over the field in passing downs will make him valuable to Washington.
20) *PROJECTED TRADE* Arizona Cardinals (from CHI) -- Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Previously: Cardinals draft Jaycee Horn after trading up; Bears draft DeVonta Smith in this spot
With limited draft capital heading into Thursday, the Cardinals smartly move down from the original No. 16 pick and acquire additional picks - and still have the opportunity to draft a top cornerback. There’s an immediate opening in the Arizona secondary following Patrick Peterson ’s departure, so a cornerback in the first round seems the likely direction. If fully healthy, Caleb Farley would be the top CB off the board as he checks all the boxes in terms of size, speed and pass-defending skills. However, there’s a slight injury worry after he had back surgery in March and will get a slow start this summer in terms of offseason workouts/early practice time. Still, the talent is undeniable and it’s possible he ends up as the best defensive player in this entire Draft.
21) Indianapolis Colts -- Samuel Cosmi, OL, Texas
Previously: Caleb Farley
The Colts have an immediate need for a left tackle following the surprising offseason retirement of Anthony Castonzo . The front office should be prioritizing the O-line at this pick to solidify the protection for new QB Carson Wentz , who has an injury history and struggled last year with Philly’s poor line play. At Texas, Samuel Cosmi started at left tackle in a pass-heavy offense and was consistently tasked with protecting the blind side for QB Sam Ehlinger. Cosmi’s pass protection will be something teams covet - and Indy will want to keep Wentz healthy.
22) Tennessee Titans -- Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
Previously: Kwity Paye
After losing Jadeveon Clowney to free agency, the Titans have a need at edge rusher even after adding Bud Dupree in the offseason. Some scouts have Kwity Paye as the best pass rusher in the class because of his elite-level athleticism and size that should help him develop more at the pro level. Though he wasn’t used a ton at true defensive end - often lining up inside at Michigan - Paye has the versatility to be a speedy lineman or an outside backer in Tennessee’s 3-4 base defense.
23) New York Jets (from SEA) -- Greg Newsome, CB, Northwestern
Previously: Greg Newsome
With their second first-round selection on Draft night, the Jets address the defense after grabbing QB Zach Wilson at No. 2 overall. As a three-year starter at Northwestern, Greg Newsome got better with each collegiate season - culminating in him leading the Big Ten in passes defended with an FBS-high in passer rating against this past year. Newsome can start right away for New York as a terrific cover corner and help rebuild a secondary that struggled mightily last season.
24) Pittsburgh Steelers -- Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
Previously: Najee Harris
The Steelers are in win-now mode with Ben Roethlisberger back, but the one hole on offense is running back with James Conner gone and unproven options on the current roster. Pittsburgh should draft a RB at some point in this Draft and Najee Harris would step right into a bell-cow role right away. At Alabama, Harris proved he can handle a full rushing workload while also being a good receiver out of the backfield. That pass-catching ability will be key for Big Ben’s checkdowns. The Steelers could grab a RB with a later pick, but why not just lock down the top prospect in the first round?
25) Jacksonville Jaguars (from LAR) -- Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
Previously: Trevon Moehrig
After locking in Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick, Jacksonville uses their other first-round selection to address the defense. The Jags already have some young talent at defensive end (Josh Allen ), linebacker (Myles Jack ), cornerback (CJ Henderson) - but the interior defensive line needs help. Christian Barmore would instantly help in that area as an NFL-ready defensive tackle who can stop the run and rush the passer from the inside. At Alabama, Barmore played defensive end in a 3-4 scheme but he can easily play the typical D-tackle spot on Jacksonville’s line.
26) Cleveland Browns -- Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami FL
Previously: Gregory Rousseau
Despite adding Jadeveon Clowney in free agency to pair opposite Myles Garrett , the Browns would still love more defensive line talent on the edges. As a converted defensive end, Gregory Rousseau is a raw talent who may need a year to fully develop at the NFL level. However, Cleveland can afford to take a chance on a potential Pro Bowl-caliber player since they already have Clowney and Garrett as the starters on the edge. Rousseau is a high-risk, high reward pick in the first round, but the upside is definitely there with his length and athleticism.
27) Baltimore Ravens -- Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
Previously: Azeez Ojulari
Our first mock had the Ravens trading up to take Azeez Ojulari, but they’re able to draft him here at the original spot. Ojulari is arguably the best pass rusher in this Draft after he led the SEC in sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles as an outside backer in Georgia's vaunted defense last season. Though he lacks some size and length, Ojulari makes up for it with athleticism and speed from the edge - usually leaving offensive tackles helpless. Baltimore’s D is built on strong edge play and Ojulari could be the answer for years to come.
28) New Orleans -- Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
Previously: Zaven Collins
The Saints definitely need help on the defensive side of the ball and Zaven Collins would be a big boost as a playmaking linebacker. He dominated at Tulsa as a three-year starter with the ideal size, length and instincts needed to be a great NFL backer. New Orleans could use Collins at multiple linebacker spots as he can stop the run, rush the passer or cover tight ends/running backs. There’s a chance Collins is gone earlier, but the Saints would be getting a steal if he’s available this late.
29) Green Bay Packers -- Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
Previously: Rashod Bateman
Everyone expected the Packers to take a WR in the first round a year ago - and then they surprisingly took QB Jordan Love. The front office does the right thing this time around and rewards Aaron Rodgers for his MVP season by providing another talented pass-catcher to pair with Davante Adams . Though Rashod Bateman could be a reach this early, he could easily end up as a top WR in this rookie class. At Minnesota, Bateman set the school’s single season records for catches and receiving yards as a sophomore and played multiple receiver positions as the offense’s headliner. The Packers can get creative with moving Bateman around the formation and getting Adams better matchups as well.
30) Buffalo Bills -- Asante Samuel Jr, CB, Florida State
Previously: Asante Samuel Jr
The Bills are pretty set in the secondary with Tre’Davious White manning one corner spot and then Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde locked into the safety positions. However, this team is ready to win a Super Bowl and adding more coverage depth should be a priority in the Draft as the defense becomes an even bigger strength. As the son of a former NFL corner, Asante Samuel Jr. literally has pro-level talent in his genes and played like it the past two seasons at Florida State - allowing just two receiving touchdowns over 20 games. Though he isn’t as highly rated or as tall as other defensive backs in this class, Samuel Jr. can play both outside and inside as a solid coverage corner.
31) Baltimore Ravens (from KC) -- Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss
Previously: Elijah Moore
The Ravens just acquired this pick last Friday from the Chiefs following a notable trade involving OT Orlando Brown. So, Baltimore now has two first-round selections and thus added luxury to use one of those to bolster the receiving corps. Elijah Moore is an ideal possession receiver who tore up SEC defenses last season with his sharp routes in the short-to-intermediate range and was a matchup nightmare for opposing corners. In the Ravens’ offense, he can provide a safety blanket underneath for QB Lamar Jackson - something they lack outside of tight end Mark Andrews .
32) Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
Previously: Davis Mills
The Bucs bring back basically all of their starters from last year’s Super Bowl champion squad, so there really aren’t many positions of “need” on the roster. This is essentially a luxury pick for Tampa Bay still in win-now mode - and why not add more talent and depth on the defensive side of the ball? Trevon Moehrig is viewed as the top safety prospect in this Draft as a ball-hawking free safety from TCU who just won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back last season. He could form a ferocious, young safety duo with Antoine Winfield Jr.
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