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The San Francisco 49ers’ dramatic move up into the three hole has given the 2021 NFL draft a good shakeup. Which quarterback they'll select will make for fascinating fodder right up until Round 1 kicks off on April 29.
But we can’t overlook what the Dolphins did either, sliding down nine spots and then settling in at No. 6. Miami is one of three teams with multiple first-round picks and really could benefit from the possibility of quarterbacks being selected with the first three, four or — could it happen? — five overall selections, depending on what happens with Atlanta and Cincinnati at Nos. 4 and 5 overall.
This has the makings of a thrilling first round. We’re less than a month away, and just as pro days are starting to wrap up, draft season is officially in high gear.
Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence
The hay is in the barn. Lawrence, even after undergoing labrum surgery, is the pick. Two titans from recent college football past — Lawrence and Urban Meyer — are united in a fascinating experiment.
BYU QB Zach Wilson
What will GM Joe Douglas do? Sam Darnold is still a Jet for now, but for how long, no one knows. We think Douglas will have a soft spot for Wilson’s creative genius — even if there could be rough patches early with his freewheeling style of play. Still, Douglas was on hand for Wilson's exciting pro day, and if this plays out, the Jets would have their most exciting talent at QB in many years.
3. San Francisco 49ers (from Miami Dolphins via Houston Texans)
North Dakota State QB Trey Lance
Immediately following the monster trade between the 49ers and Dolphins, I broke down the possibilities of which QB the 49ers could draft. Essentially, I ranked the likelihood: 1. Lance, 2. Mac Jones, 3. Justin Fields. But I was hardly concrete in my belief.
Then I read this quote from after Josh Allen and the Bills torched the Niners last season. It feels pretty telling about Shanahan’s revised QB vision, in retrospect:
“How I evaluate everything is always changing,” Shanahan said, via the Sacramento Bee. “Things change, people change. You start to see you can win football games with any type of quarterback as long as they are good enough and you can be good enough in hundreds of different ways.
“So, I evaluate quarterbacks in terms of trying to find people who can have a chance to be one of those elite-type guys and there’s lots of different ways to do it. You can see now there’s plenty of different ways, so I don’t think that’ll ever change. I don’t think you have one certain thing you’re looking for. You’re just trying to find a guy who is better than about 98 percent of the people on this planet or in this country and when you find that, you get him and you adjust to him.”
Elite-type guys, eh? I don’t think that screams Jones. It more likely shouts Lance, methinks. And that even could allow Jimmy Garoppolo to stay on — they have the cap space — and start early until Lance is ready.
There is precedent, too, for a 49ers team making a midseason QB switch and still making a Super Bowl run, and this roster is in the kind of shape to do just that.
Oregon OT Penei Sewell
The Falcons wisely are doing their work on all the top quarterbacks with Matt Ryan approaching the twilight of his career. But his contract being what it is, it’s cumbersome enough where Atlanta is pretty shackled because of the future dead money. Meaning: Cutting him will come at a steep cost, this year or next.
A trade down feels even more likely now that they’ve been leapfrogged by the 49ers. The Falcons have nine picks, but six of them are on Day 3. They could use more pick clout. They also could use help on defense, and there’s no clear-cut top-10 prospect on that side of the ball.
Staying here could net Sewell, who could be the Day 1 left tackle or left guard if they don’t want to move Jake Matthews inside.
Florida TE Kyle Pitts
We’d heartily endorse Pitts here, but only if the Bengals add more veteran talent at offensive tackle first. That’s not easy to do following the first wave of free agency. Another alternative would be to be ready to pounce and move up from No. 38 in Round 2 to somewhere late in Round 1 to grab help for Joe Burrow.
But Burrow also could use another big target. A.J. Green was targeted 104 times last season, netting only 47 catches for 523 yards and two scores. He’s moved on, and the Bengals could add a premier weapon to fill that slot with Pitts. Cincinnati was tied for 29th in red-zone effectiveness last season. That must change.
6. Miami Dolphins (via Philadelphia Eagles)
LSU WR Ja'Marr Chase
If Chase falls to them here, the Dolphins should be thrilled. It’s rare to see maneuvering a month before the draft work out with such precision, but this scenario would be a tremendous success. There’s a temptation to pair Tua Tagovaoloa with one of his former Bama teammates, but Chase feels like the right fit.
As one scouting director told us in December, “If you had to pick one of those [LSU receivers] right after they won a title, you’d have taken Chase, right? [Justin] Jefferson [had 1,400 yards] as a rookie. [Chase] might be better.”
Solid point. Miami has its deep threat (Will Fuller), some bigger targets (DeVante Parker and Preston Williams) and now adds its bulldog (Chase). There will be no excuses for Tua after a certain point.
7. Detroit Lions
Penn State LB Micah Parsons
Another trade-down possibility, the Lions could bypass a QB here and keep adding to their future-pick till and go all in on Jared Goff’s potential replacement in 2022.
We also can’t help but go back to what new head coach Dan Campbell said about building a “core foundation” recently. And for the examples of players who fit that mold, Campbell mentioned Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Luke Kuechly.
This should be GM Brad Holmes’ call. But don’t forget that Chris Spielman is helping steer the direction of the franchise, as is senior personnel executive John Dorsey. Spielman is a former linebacker, and Dorsey never seemed to fret over certain character concerns, like the ones Parsons carries with his evaluation. If the Lions could slide back and grab Parsons, we’d like it even more.
8. Carolina Panthers
Ohio State QB Justin Fields
Quarterback feels like an area they desperately want to improve, and the draft could be the best (only?) route if Deshaun Watson’s legal troubles don’t take a dramatic turn for the better.
The Panthers brass got to know Mac Jones pretty well at the Senior Bowl. But our sense is that picking him at No. 8 might be too rich.
Fields has the quiet toughness and athletic prowess to develop into a star in time, and keeping Teddy Bridgewater as the bridge QB is a very realistic possibility. Perhaps they could flip Bridgewater before the trade deadline to a QB-needy team.
9. Denver Broncos
Alabama QB Mac Jones
They’ve addressed the secondary in free agency. Linebacker and offensive tackle are two other spots I could see the Broncos considering when this pick comes up. But the Broncos are also still in need of giving Drew Lock some competition and are said to be interested in Jones. Are they "ninth overall" interested? That’s the big question.
Trading down certainly feels like a strong option as well. After all, the Broncos might decide they don’t need Jones. They could slide back a few spots and still get a really good non-QB.
10. Dallas Cowboys
Alabama CB Patrick Surtain II
This has been one of my most common mock pairings, and why not? It just makes a lot of sense. Surtain had a great pro day, quieting some of the talk that he wasn’t quite an elite athlete.
Surtain might never be a top-five corner in the league, but we feel he eventually will fall just below that mark at his peak and provide Dallas far better coverage in a shoddy secondary. There’s now a bit of a Bama-to-Dallas pipeline with Amari Cooper, Trevon Diggs and Saivion Smith.
11. New York Giants
Miami EDGE Jaelen Phillips
My gut is that the Kenny Golladay signing might preclude them from taking a receiver here. Phillips’ big pro-day performance is enough to ease some concerns over the fact he’s essentially been a half-year performer in college. GM Dave Gettleman favors size, pedigree and alluring athletic traits in his first-round prospects. If history is an indication, Phillips fits that to a tee.
12. Philadelphia Eagles
South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn
This would be a good result after the Eagles slid down from No. 6. The son of former Saints receiver Joe Horn could be earmarked as a Day 1 starter opposite Darius Slay and has the length and athletic twitch to handle talented NFC East receivers such as CeeDee Lamb and Kenny Golladay.
13. Los Angeles Chargers
Northwestern OT-OG Rashawn Slater
Offensive line is a priority, point blank. Slater is a great prospect, point blank redux. So this is a great match. He can play multiple spots on the line and help the Chargers build the best starting five to protect Justin Herbert. Plus, the team recently added special assistant Cody Cejda, who arrived from Northwestern (as its personnel director) and can give the Chargers a firsthand view of how special Slater can be.
14. Minnesota Vikings
USC OG Ali Vera-Tucker
Vera-Tucker might have, in our opinion, played left tackle better in 2020 than Austin Jackson did in 2019 for USC, but he’s likely an NFL guard. To that we counter: So what? Vera-Tucker hasn’t received a ton of media buzz, but he looks like a future Pro Bowler. The Vikings have the flexibility, we believe, to move Ezra Cleveland to left tackle and insert Vera-Tucker at right guard.
15. New England Patriots
Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle
The assumption is that they’re gearing up for a trade up into the upper reaches of the draft for a QB. That certainly could happen, as we’ve speculated.
But short of that happening, Waddle would be a steal here. There hasn’t been much (good) news on Julian Edelman’s health status, and N’Keal Harry’s name has been floated in trade possibilities; we could see him ending up in Houston, for instance.
Waddle’s diverse skill set and blurring speed could be exactly what the Patriots need if they’re unable to add more high-end talent at QB.
16. Arizona Cardinals
Northwestern CB Greg Newsome II
Newsome turned in some excellent tape this season, and then he backed it up with a phenomenal pro day. He’s not quite as long as Horn but absolutely shows the ability to lock down receivers in man coverage when healthy. The problem? He missed multiple games each year in college.
Cornerback remains a need in Arizona, however, even with the addition of Malcolm Butler. Newsome’s upside and man-coverage ability make a lot of sense here.
17. Las Vegas Raiders
Oklahoma State OT Teven Jenkins
Why Jenkins over Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw? Well, for one, he’s well-versed at right tackle, which is a sore spot after the trade of Trent Brown. They’ve nuked a big chunk of their high-priced offensive line and need a Day 1 starter. Jenkins is a big, strong mauler who fits the Raiders’ profile, we think, a bit better than Darrisaw, more of a smooth technician.
18. Miami Dolphins
Georgia EDGE Azeez Ojulari
Adding more disruptive pieces on defense should be a priority, and Ojulari is a young, ascending talent who could be special in time. In fact, we could see Miami signing Jadeveon Clowney to a one-year deal and still pulling the trigger on an EDGE prospect.
Right now the Dolphins have Emmanuel Ogbah, Andrew Van Ginkel and Vince Biegel, who is coming off a torn Achilles, to rush the passer. They need more.
19. Washington Football Team
Virginia Tech OT Christian Darrisaw
Washington might still want to give Saahdiq Charles a shot at left tackle, but he remains a virtual unknown. And though Cornelius Lucas held his own there late last season, we think the team can upgrade.
Darrisaw is a light-on-his-feet blocker with flashes of a mean streak (we’d still like to see it more consistently), and his three years of starting experience make him feel like a very safe selection here for an offense that continues rebuilding.
20. Chicago Bears
Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman
The need for a tackle remains high, but this could be a really interesting scenario if it unfolds this way. We just don’t see the value in drafting the fifth- or sixth-best tackle in Round 1.
Does Chicago really need a receiver? We think so. Allen Robinson’s long-term future remains up in the air, and the Bears could upgrade over Anthony Miller, Javon Wims and Riley Ridley. If they’re going to go vanilla at QB, might as well add some serious flavor at wideout with a decent-sized, highly competitive receiver in Bateman.
21. Indianapolis Colts
Penn State EDGE Jayson Oweh
Oweh comes with concerns — zero sacks last season — but the allure is fairly obvious. He’s a truly elite athlete who showed disruptive potential and could help bolster a pass-rush unit that’s currently headed up by Kemoko Turay, Tyquan Lewis and a cast of unprovens.
22. Tennessee Titans
Alabama WR DeVonta Smith
Smith’s landing spot is tricky to pin down, and we don’t have a timed speed on him. But adding him to an offense with Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown could help offset the losses of Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith.
The Titans really do need to nail this pick a year after whiffing hard on Isaiah Wilson. And we could see the ultra-competitive DeVonta Smith being a huge factor on play-action passes, just as he was for Alabama.
We also thought about flip-flopping the past two picks — Smith to Indy and Oweh to Tennessee. That scenario also wouldn't stun us.
23. Jets (from Seattle Seahawks)
Syracuse CB Ifeatu Melifonwu
We’re guessing they’d love to give their rookie QB some more help on offense. But we also assume that new head coach Robert Saleh will want another long corner to fit his cover-3 system.
Enter Melifonwu, who stands 6-foot-2 and has 32-inch arms. He lacks great speed and quickness, but those traits aren’t as essential in this scheme.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers
Michigan OT Jalen Mayfield
Another OT-needy team, the Steelers sent GM Kevin Colbert, head coach Mike Tomlin and assistant OL coach Chris Morgan to the Wolverines’ pro day. Mayfield figures to be someone the Steelers are interested in, and though this might feel pretty high for him to be taken, the need might warrant it (barring a trade down).
Plus, the Steelers do have a history of going off the radar with Day 2 talents in this range with picks such as Terrell Edmunds and Artie Burns. Other possibilities here: Mizzou LB Nick Bolton and Alabama RB Najee Harris.
25. Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams)
Alabama DT Christian Barmore
It’s a weaker DT class, and the Jaguars recently missing out on reacquiring Tyson Alualu leaves them shorthanded up front. Barmore’s rise could come with some bumps in the road, as his play ran hot and cold last season. But he possesses the disruptive traits — the ones Urban Meyer was on hand to see during the national title game — to be great down the road.
26. Cleveland Browns
Michigan EDGE Kwity Paye
Rest easy, Browns fans — no linebacker here. It just doesn’t seem to fit their approach to use a high pick on that spot. But edge rusher? Hard not to think they could even double up at that spot. Paye is highly athletic and driven, which will give him high marks. Can he ever be special? We’re not sure, but the floor feels pretty high.
27. Baltimore Ravens
Notre Dame LB-S Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
It’s entirely possible that JOK goes far higher than this on draft day. But without adding trades into the mix, the mock just sort of unfolded this way. Plus, what is an NFL draft without the Ravens grabbing some absurd value up high? It’s seemingly an annual occurrence.
I see Owusu-Koramoah as more of a box safety, really, and I think in time he can be a tight end eraser. That’s even more of a key with the Browns’ strength at that position and — at least in this mock — the Bengals grabbing Kyle Pitts. DeShon Elliott and Chuck Clark are both solid players, but what this group could use is a playmaker, and that’s the potential JOK brings.
28. New Orleans Saints
Georgia CB Tyson Campbell
We’re a shade more bearish on Campbell than others, but the curb appeal is pretty obvious. He’s a special athlete who is blossoming into a quality corner, and the Saints do need help at that spot. They’re a team that loves their measurables in the scouting process, so it’s quite easy to make that connection. Would they consider Florida State CB Asante Samuel Jr. here instead? Maybe.
29. Green Bay Packers
Washington DL Levi Onwuzurike
We thought long and hard here about Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley, as the former top-15 prospect appears to be in limbo following news that he’s undergone a second back procedure in the past two years. If he checks out medically, Farley could be back in the first-round picture.
But Onwuzurike makes sense, too. Green Bay has three defensive linemen of note (Kenny Clark, Kingsley Keke and Dean Lowry) currently in the picture and could use Onwuzurike’s penetration ability and versatility up front.
30. Buffalo Bills
Alabama C-OG Landon Dickerson
I’ve landed on TCU S Trevon Moehrig a few times in this slot before, but I still wonder how the Bills view their offensive line for the short and long terms. Sure, they brought back Daryl Williams, Mitch Morse and Jon Feliciano, but the latter two in no way appear tethered long term.
Dickerson’s torn ACL will keep him shelved for a bit, so he could be a PUP list candidate to start the season. But his appeal is obvious as a highly respected, massive tone-setter up front. Dickerson could be the next Eric Wood.
31. Kansas City Chiefs
Notre Dame OT Liam Eichenberg
The Chiefs still could use a tackle, and they might be aggressive in trying to trade up for one. But here, they grab a very solid pass protector who likely would have been good enough to start in the Super Bowl had he been on the roster a few months ago. Eichenberg fits the mold of the big, smart, experienced blocker the Chiefs tend to seek. Not a sexy pick but a pretty safe and smart one.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Alabama RB Najee Harris
What does a Super Bowl-winning team with all 22 starters back need? Well, not a lot. So why not take a great back whose toughness and receiving ability could fill a void? Taking Harris here could be admitting that Ke’Shawn Vaughn was a reach a year ago, but smart teams don’t care about that kind of message and will take great prospects when they’re still available.
Teams without first-round picks
Kentucky CB Kelvin Joseph
Seattle often goes with a surprise pick with its first selection. This wouldn’t be a stunner, as Joseph’s talent isn’t really in question. He also possesses the length the Seahawks seek in corners. But lack of experience, plus some questions about how Joseph exited two SEC programs, is what has this first-round-caliber talent’s draft stock in some limbo.
Oklahoma C Creed Humphrey
If Humphrey is still here, this would be a steal. The Rams just lost Austin Blythe and need a replacement. Humphrey’s high-level experience could allow him to be a rookie starter, and his athletic traits make him an ideal fit for Sean McVay’s system.
Houston EDGE Payton Turner
New GM Nick Caserio will have to sit on his hands for a bit before making his maiden selection for the Texans, barring a trade up. Considering the flavor of recent Patriots drafts, we don’t expect big fireworks. But Turner absolutely is an ascending talent — and a local one — who could help fill the void of J.J. Watt. Look for Caserio to add building blocks, not swing for the fences, even though Turner has some fascinating upside as a power edge.
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