2021 NFL mock draft: Playing GM for every team in the 1st round

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Luke Easterling
·13 min read
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This time of year, my mock drafts have long turned from my own preference for where a particular prospect should go to projecting what I actually think will happen on draft day.

But with less than two weeks to go before the 2021 NFL draft, I thought it might be fun to go back in the other direction.

Here’s what I would do with every pick in this year’s draft:

1. Jacksonville Jaguars | Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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2. New York Jets | Ohio State QB Justin Fields

(AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

Yes, I expect BYU's Zach Wilson to be the pick here. But were I calling the shots in Florham Park, Fields would be the easy selection. He would be the clear-cut No. 1 overall pick in any draft class that didn't include a Trevor Lawrence, making him a steal at No. 2 overall, which is rare.

3. San Francisco 49ers (from HOU via MIA) | North Dakota State QB Trey Lance

(AP Photo/Sam Hodde)

This is a tough call between Lance and Wilson. They're graded closely on my board, and I'm not sure the 49ers could go wrong with either one. I think Lance has a slightly higher ceiling, so that gives him the nod here.

4. Atlanta Falcons | BYU QB Zach Wilson

(AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

Sure, the Falcons are on the hook for some serious cap space with Matt Ryan for the next two years. But when you have a chance to take a legit franchise quarterback in the top five, you take it. Even if Wilson has to sit, passing on a prospect with Wilson's talent and potential at the game's most important position would be a dangerous risk.

5. Cincinnati Bengals | Florida TE Kyle Pitts

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This is a close call between Pitts and LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, and I would imagine Joe Burrow would lobby for his former college teammate instead. But for me, I stay true to my board and take the best non-quarterback prospect in the draft, rare talent who transcends his position designation.

6. Miami Dolphins (from PHI) | Oregon OT Penei Sewell

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I'd love Pitts for the Dolphins here, and I'd give Chase strong consideration here. But getting a blue-chip franchise tackle outside the top five is a rare treat, and while Austin Jackson showed promise as a rookie, Sewell would immediately be the best blocker on the roster. Sewell's presence would allow Robert Hunt to kick inside to guard, upgrading two positions with one pick.

7. Detroit Lions | LSU WR Ja'Marr Chase

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This is the dream scenario for the Lions, who did their best to reload at wide receiver after free agency gutted the room. They don't have the caliber of pass-catcher they lost on Kenny Golladay, but Chase would immediate be that guy. He's exactly the kind of difference-maker you need to make sure Jared Goff succeeds.

8. Carolina Panthers | Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater

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There are multiple avenues for the Panthers here, and they really can't go wrong in a few different directions (corner, wide receiver). But if you're hoping Sam Darnold can be "the guy" moving forward, he's going to need more help up front than he got in New York. Slater would be an immediate upgrade at left tackle or either guard spot.

9. Denver Broncos | Penn State LB Micah Parsons

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Finally, a defensive player. The Broncos could go in many different directions here, so that means you opt for the best talent, and that's Parsons. He's one of the best pure athletes in this entire draft, and he's got all the tools to make the kind of difference Devin White made for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year. That's well worth a top-10 pick.

10. Dallas Cowboys | Alabama CB Patrick Surtain II

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This sets up well for the Cowboys, who need a shutdown corner and get to pick from this year's best in this scenario. Surtain is the top cover man on my board, with the kind of size and athleticism it takes to be worthy of top-10 consideration. Getting the best prospect at a premium position at this spot is a bargain, and it fills a huge need.

11. New York Giants | USC OL Alijah Vera-Tucker

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Edge rusher is the popular pick here, and with good reason. But while the Giants upgraded Daniel Jones' weapons with Kenny Golladay, the offensive line needs help he's going to be the franchise quarterback they hope he can be. Vera-Tucker still seems to be flying under the radar a bit, and I'm not sure why. He's a legit top-10 prospect in this class, regardless of position.

12. Philadelphia Eagles (from SF via MIA) | Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle

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I'll be shocked if Waddle actually falls this far on draft day, but if he's still on the board, it would be a no-brainer for the Eagles. Yes, they spent last year's first-round pick on a smaller-but-explosive pass-catcher in Jalen Reagor, so a bigger, more physical pass-catcher might make more sense. But when you've got the kind of game-breaking speed and explosiveness Waddle brings to the table, you throw out convention and take the guy who can score on every touch.

13. Los Angeles Chargers | Virginia Tech OT Christian Darrisaw

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The Chargers hit a grand slam with Justin Herbert last year, but now they need to focus on protecting him with a franchise left tackle. Lucky for them, one falls into their lap here. There's a strong second tier of offensive tackle prospects in this year's draft, but I have Darrisaw firmly planted at the top after Sewell and Slater.

14. Minnesota Vikings | Michigan EDGE Kwity Paye

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It hurts to see Darrisaw come off the board at the pick before, and it's possible the Vikings would still consider the next-best offensive tackle here. But with no edge defenders off the board yet, the chance to add this year's best of a deep class in Paye would be tough to pass up. He's an incredible athlete who is still just scratching the surface of his potential.

15. New England Patriots | Alabama WR DeVonta Smith

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The Pats have loaded up on weapons in free agency, but that shouldn't stop them from passing on the Heisman Trophy winner if he falls here. Smith is a lean but polished pass-catcher who checks every box except the one that says "buy in bulk." He's a smooth route-runner with shades of Marvin Harrison, and that's something Bill Belichick would be wise not to pass up.

16. Arizona Cardinals | South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

It's the end of an era with the departure of veteran Patrick Peterson, and the Cards need to reload with a talented corner who has that kind of size, length and athleticism. They luck out in this scenario, as Horn brings all of that and more by falling to them at this pick.

17. Las Vegas Raiders | Notre Dame LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

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Offensive line is the bigger need here, but the value just isn't there compared to what they're getting in Owusu-Koramoah. A fast, versatile defender who can line up at either linebacker or safety, JOK has the kind of skill set modern defensive coordinators love. No matter where he plays at the next level, he'll have a big impact.

18. Miami Dolphins | Georgia EDGE Azeez Ojulari

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There are some attractive options elsewhere, but the Dolphins need a difference-maker on the edge, and Ojulari is one of my favorite prospects in this draft. You'll see plenty of edge guys mocked ahead of him, but I think he's one of the most complete defenders in this class, and can play in any scheme at a high level. He's absolutely worth a top-20 pick, and fills a huge need for this defense.

19. Washington Football Team | Alabama QB Mac Jones

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

This may feel like a slide for Jones, and it's likely he'll indeed go much higher on draft day. But he's a Day 2 prospect for me, so this is still a little early for me, actually. Quarterbacks come at a premium, though, and Washington needs one badly. That means taking the next-best guy on the board in Jones, who would probably go at the next pick if they didn't take him here.

20. Chicago Bears | Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley

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After losing out on Jones, the Bears switch gears to the defense, where they need to replace veteran corner Kyle Fuller. Farley was considered the top corner in this class and a top-10 lock before he opted out of the 2020 college football season and then had back surgery. It sounds like his medical checks went well earlier this month, so getting him here would be a huge steal.

21. Indianapolis Colts | North Dakota State OT Dillon Radunz

(AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

The retirement of Anthony Castonzo made left tackle the immediate top need for the Colts this offseason, and they didn't fill it in free agency. Thankfully for them, this year's deep class gives them plenty of solid options here. I'm a big fan of Radunz, who was a dominant left tackle for the Bison, and proved at the Senior Bowl that he can hang with top competition.

22. Tennessee Titans | Oklahoma State OT Teven Jenkins

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It's hard to pass up Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman here, but if the Titans want to maintain their identity as a physical, smash-mouth offense, they need to fill that gaping hole at right tackle before they worry about another receiver to pair with A.J. Brown. Jenkins has a track record of success at right tackle, and would be a strong fit here.

23. New York Jets (from SEA) | Northwestern CB Greg Newsome II

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The Jets attacked some of their biggest needs hard in free agency, but corner is the one that still needs the most attention. Newsome has been one of the fastest-rising prospects in this year's class, and with good reason. His combination of physical and mental tools is exactly what the Jets need at a premium position.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers | Texas OT Samuel Cosmi

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I love Alabama running back Najee' Harris, and I think he'd be a fantastic fit in Pittsburgh. But he's not going anywhere with this offensive line, and neither is an aging quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger. Cosmi is a huge, athletic left tackle with tons of starting experience against top competition, and would be an immediate upgrade.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (from LAR) | TCU S Trevon Moehrig

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The Jags might be tempted to help Trevor Lawrence with this pick, and understandably so. But they can do that with the first pick of the second round, instead of passing on the only safety prospect that got a first-round grade from me this year. Moehrig's athleticism, versatility and instincts should allow him to make an immediate impact against both the run and pass.

26. Cleveland Browns | Tulsa LB Zaven Collins

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Anthony Walker was a solid addition in free agency, but this linebacker group could still use some help, especially after the Browns addressed their immediate need for an edge rusher by signing Jadeveon Clowney. Collins is a massive defender with rare athleticism for his size, and he has a knack for making big plays when he gets to the ball-carrier.

27. Baltimore Ravens | Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman

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This is one of the easiest picks so far, as Bateman gives Lamar Jackson the kind of receiver he's desperately needed since he arrived in Baltimore. He's got the size, athleticism and ball skills to immediately be the top target for Jackson, helping to balance out an offense that has relied too much on the running game for far too long.

28. New Orleans Saints | Florida WR Kadarius Toney

(AP Photo/John Raoux, Pool)

The Drew Brees era has finally ended in New Orleans, and whether it's Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill taking over, that quarterback is going to need an explosive field-stretcher at wide receiver to pair with Michael Thomas. Toney is a touchdown waiting to happen on every touch, and would be a dangerous addition to this offense.

29. Green Bay Packers | Wisconsin-Whitewater OL Quinn Meinerz

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Of course it would be perfect to see Meinerz stay in Wisconsin, but this is more than just a fun story. The Packers have a huge need at center after losing Corey Linsley in free agency, and unless they want Aaron Rodgers running for his life in 2021, they need to fill it immediately. Meinerz proved at the Senior Bowl that he can handle the best competition in the country, and he's one of the most athletic interior blockers we've seen in recent years.

30. Buffalo Bills | Alabama RB Najee' Harris

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This may feel like a strange pick, but the Bills really don't have any glaring needs, which should free them up to prioritize value with this selection. Devin Singletary and Zack Moss have shown flashes at times, but neither has truly seized the full-time starting job in the Buffalo backfield. Harris is a three-down playmaker with rare size and athleticism, and would be the immediate starter for a team ready to make a Super Bowl run.

31. Kansas City Chiefs | Alabama OT Alex Leatherwood

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I mean, come on. You watched the Super Bowl. You know. This team decided after that performance, that letting Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz walk in free agency was a wise move for some reason, and Chiefs fans are probably hoping the plan doesn't include relying on the replacements they deployed in that crushing loss. Leatherwood can play either tackle spot or even slide inside at guard, he's a great athlete for his size, and he's been tested against the best competition in the nation.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Miami (FL) EDGE Jaelan Phillips

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The defending Super Bowl champs don't have any immediate needs, so they can afford a somewhat risky luxury pick here. Phillips has top-15 talent, but his injury history could easily have him off some teams' boards entirely. But if he stays healthy, he could prove to be a huge steal at this spot. Tampa Bay brought back Shaq Barrett with a long-term extension, but Jason Pierre-Paul is 32, coming off knee surgery, and going into the final year of his current deal. There's not much proven depth behind him, either.

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