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You may ask yourself why my final mock draft of 2021 leads with a Metallica reference. Well, besides the fact that any opportunity to slip Metallica into any article is a can’t-miss win, there is an element to the above “Enter Sandman” lyric that becomes the story as we get ready for the draft to actually begin. The light in question was the pre-draft process — even in this weird and unpresented year of COVID opt-outs, no scouting combine, and Zoom pressers and pro days when there used to be more boots on the ground, teams were putting their draft boards together and trying to figure out which players best fit their paradigms.
Now, the rubber meets the road, and enter, night. No more daylight here, and the draft dream or nightmare you’re about to encounter as a team depends entirely on the due diligence you did along the way, and the good fortune you may or may not have as your favorite guys are on the board (or not) when it’s your time to pick.
Come Thursday at 8:00 p.m. EST, there are no more big boards, no more first-round mock drafts, no more hypotheticals. Just a bunch of people in 32 team facilities trying to make sense of it all. And with my final mock of the 2021 pre-draft process, that’s what I’m trying to do: This is what I think teams will do, based on scheme, need, talent, and just a hint of randomness.
As Levi Damien, my Wire colleague on the Raiders side, said…
Sad but true, indeed.
(All advanced metrics courtesy of Pro Football Focus and Sports Info Solutions).
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)
Urban Meyer recently said that the Jaguars did due diligence on three quarterbacks on their way to the first overall pick: Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and Zach Wilson. Honestly, I think this is a bit of misdirection from Meyer so people will pay attention to Jacksonville's pick as opposed to finishing up the clam dip or taking that final bathroom break. We all know it's Lawrence at 1, and it should be, as Lawrence has the highest floor and the highest ceiling of any quarterback (and quite possibly any player) in this class.
2. New York Jets: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
(Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports)
It's been the automatic assumption all along that the Jaguars will take Lawrence, the Jets will take Zach Wilson, and the draft really starts at the third pick, where the 49ers currently reside. And there's no question that Wilson would fir perfectly in Mike LaFleur's offense, since Mike LaFleur's offense is basically Kyle Shanahan's offense. But let's just say that in their final perambulations around the rest of the class, they decide that Fields is an even better fit? The point would be difficult to argue, as Fields presents most of Wilson's passing potential, next-level athletic traits, and he doesn't have Wilson's predilection for YOLO balls.
3. San Francisco 49ers: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
(Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)
And with that surprise, the 49ers are on the clock. Kyle Shanahan said on Monday that his team had one quarterback in their sights early on, and that the focus had widened to any one of five guys at three. I think Shanahan's mention of "five guys at three" is an attempt to get an endorsement from the legendary fast food joint, and while there are parts of Mac Jones' game that fit what Shanahan prefers from his quarterback, there are also parts of Jones' game that really don't -- specifically, Jones' lack of mobility to run boot-action, and his inability to make second-reaction throws. Wilson isn't a perfect quarterback. There's a disturbing randomness to his snap-to-snap efficiency, and there are questions about his level of competition, but there isn't a single quarterback in this class who better fits the Shanahan paradigm as it's been proven over time. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/lists/49ers-trade-2021-nfl-draft-justin-fields-zach-wilson-mac-jones-trey-lance/
4. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
(Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)
Last season, the Tennessee Titans had three tight ends on the field for 38 passing attempts. And with that personnel package, the Titans had 27 completions for 291 yards, 186 air yards, eight touchdowns, and no interceptions. The Titans put two tight ends on the field on 189 of their passing attempts, completing 123 passes for 1,539 yards, 955 air yards, seven touchdowns, and two interceptions. What's the point here? Former Titans offensive coordinator and new Falcons head coach Arthur Smith loves to deploy tight ends in the passing game, and few coaches are more effective with that. Atlanta already has Hayden Hurst at the top of their depth chart; now imagine what a unicorn like Pitts could do in Smith's offense. Then, imagine how great Pitts would be were he catching passes from Matt Ryan as opposed to Kyle Trask. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/03/25/kyle-pitts-2021-nfl-draft/
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU
(John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)
The obvious pick here would be whichever offensive tackle the Bengals prefer, and given the extent to which Joe Burrow was under pressure last season despite a high percentage of short drops, that makes all the sense in the world. But Bengals head coach Zac Taylor recently had this to say about possibly reuniting Burrow with Chase, his most explosive receiver at LSU: “It’s one of the things you weigh, and we take in a lot of factors. The production on the field, their character, football IQ, what they can bring to our locker room and to our team as a whole. Relationship with the quarterback, that certainly doesn’t hurt. It’s one of the many things we weigh.” Let's not overthink this. Chase is the best receiver in this class, and pairing him with the best quarterback in the 2020 class, and factoring in that familiarity, would give Cincinnati's passing game a new, dynamic, and desperately-need dimension. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/02/09/2021-nfl-draft-jamarr-chase-and-the-joys-of-the-slant-route/
6. Miami Dolphins: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
(Gary Cosby Jr/The Tuscaloosa News via USA TODAY Sports)
Now that the Dolphins have put their full commitment behind Tua Tagovailoa as their franchise quarterback, it's time for them to get as many high-caliber targets as possible to accentuate Tagovailoa's timing-and-rhythm passing traits. There may be no more perfect match in that regard than Waddle, who brings great short- and intermediate-area route awareness to the table, along with explosive after-catch speed that brings Tyreek Hill to mind. Adding Waddle to a receiver group that already includes DeVante Parker and Will Fuller could push Miami's passing game over the top.
7. Detroit Lions: Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama
(Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports)
The Lions could go a couple different ways here -- they could select Matthew Stafford's eventual replacement (I say Stafford's eventual replacement because Jared Goff is the bridge between franchise quarterbacks), or they could give Goff the receiver help he'll need to be anything above serviceable. Certainly, the current group of Breshad Perriman, Tyrell Williams, and Quintez Cephus will not do that, and there's a desperate need for an alpha receiver with Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones gone via free agency. Smith is an alpha outlier at six feet and 166 pounds, but even a cursory glance at his tape shows a receiver capable of beating the best press cornerbacks in ways most smaller receivers can't. With his outstanding footwork, route flexibility, second-level acceleration, and catch radius, Smith should be able to have a DeSean Jackson-level impact on his NFL offense. Goff would certainly take that. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/lists/devonta-smith-170-pounds-2021-nfl-draft/
8. Carolina Panthers: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregom
(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
Trey Lance might be an intriguing option for the Panthers at eight, but if this is the way the first quarter of the first round goes, Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer and head coach Matt Rhule should be falling all over themselves to make Sewell their guy, The Oregon alum would give Carolina one of the most formidable tackle duos in the NFL along with Taylor Moton on the right side, and that would help Sam Darnold as Darnold tries to rebuild his career out of the clutches of Adam Gase. Sewell is an ideal combination of technician and mauler, and would excel in any scheme. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/lists/2021-nfl-draft-offensive-tackles-penei-sewell-rashawn-slater/
9. Denver Broncos: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
(AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
Broncos general manager George Paton has said all the right things about Drew Lock's future, but Paton, new to the job, also has to know that he's in charge of a fairly loaded team with major issues at the most important position. Lance may be the perfect bridge in that there are questions about his ability to start right away at the NFL level (even Randy Hedberg, Lance's quarterback coach at North Dakota State, has raised these questions), but with time and coaching, Lance has a combination of aggressive mobility, arm talent, and pre-snap acumen that Lock would struggle to match on his best day. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/03/13/trey-lance-nfl-draft-2021-mock-draft-central-arkansas/
10. Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
(Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)
During the Cowboys' pre-draft press conference on Tuesday, head coach Mike McCarthy opined that he'd like for his cornerbacks to be more aggressive and play more man coverage. Not that any coverage worked well for Dallas' defense in 2020, but they were pretty bad when lining up in Cover-0, Cover-1, and 2-Man last season, allowing 82 completions on 141 attempts for 1,006 yards, 10 touchdowns, and three interceptions. If more man coverage is the thing, there's no cornerback in this class who can lock it down in those concepts like Surtain, who was arguably the best draftable pass defender in both Cover-0 and 2-Man. Per Pro Football Focus, Surtain has 662 snaps in press coverage over the last two seasons, 199 more than any other defender in the nation. There are specific reasons for that, and if more man is what the Cowboys want, Patrick Surtain II should be the pick here. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/lists/best-cornerbacks-in-the-2021-draft-by-coverage-asante-samuel-patrick-surtain-jaycee-horn/
11. Chicago Bears (from New York Giants): Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
(Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports)
Terms of the trade: The Chicago Bears get the New York Giants' 11th overall pick. The New York Giants get the Chicago Bears' 20th and 84th overall picks. With the primary playmakers at the receiver position already gone here, Giants GM Dave Gettleman might trade down in an effort to get more 2021 picks and more weapons for quarterback Daniel Jones further down the road. And Chicago might be a willing trade partner. In 2017, Bears general manager Ryan Pace traded up to the second overall pick in the draft to select Mitchell Trubisky, a quarterback under construction who had only one full season as a college starter. Pace has been pilloried for that move ever since, and rightly so, but that won't prevent him (at least, in this scenario) from trading up again to take another quarterback under construction with one full season as a college starter. Because now, it's job-saving time. In taking Jones to be Andy Dalton's short-term backup and the long-term future of the franchise, Pace and his staff will have to hope that Jones' mobility issues don't bite him in the NFL, and that he'll be able to be productive without his receivers simply beating the daylights out of their poor defenders, as Alabama's receivers often did last season. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/02/14/alabama-qb-mac-jones-2021-nfl-draft/
12. Philadelphia Eagles: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
(AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
Stealing former Vikings safety Anthony Harris on a one-year, $5 million deal should help Philly's secondary to a degree, but it will take more than one addition to mitigate a cornerback group that allowed 171 completions on 259 attempts for 2,350 yards, 14 touchdowns, and just two interceptions last season. That group hasn't changed much, so adding through the draft would be a major help for new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who was the Colts' defensive backs coach previously, and on the same staff with former Indianapolis offensive coordinator and new Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni. The Colts have done well with aggressive technicians at the cornerback position in recent years, and there's no more aggressive technician in this class than Horn, who will get too grabby at times, but also presents a perfect lockdown mentality. https://twitter.com/PFF_College/status/1384505885628801024
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
In order to better protect quarterback Justin Herbert, the Chargers signed former Packers center Corey Linsley to a five-year, $62.5 million contract. A great deal for both Linsley and Herbert, and now it's time to address Herbert's blind side. No specific offense to Trey Pipkins, he of the nine sacks and 42 total pressures allowed in 500 pass-blocking snaps over two NFL seasons, but if Pipkins is the Chargers' starting left tackle in 2021, things could get scrunchy. Slater, who opted out of the 2020 season (but not before he fought reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young to a draw at worst in 2019), is seen by some as an ideal guard, but his reps at left tackle in his final NCAA season showed a player who had improved in every capacity. Not only did Slater prevent Young from coming anywhere near the quarterback in that 2019 game, he gave up no sacks, one quarterback hit, and four quarterback hurries in 355 pass-blocking snaps overall. The Chargers' offensive line goes from good to great with one draft pick, and this is it. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/03/05/2021-nfl-draft-2021-nfl-mock-draft-rashawn-slater-left-tackle/2/
14. Minnesota Vikings: Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami
(Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports)
Minnesota's needs along the offensive line could have general manager Rick Spielman looking to trade up for a top-tier tackle, but the need for edge pressure is just as... well, pressing. So, if the Vikings stay put here, why not avail themselves of the best edge defender in the 2021 draft class? That would be Phillips, who overcame multiple concussions that led him to quit football when he was at UCLA, only to come back in 2020 with the Hurricanes to dominate with eight sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss, four quarterback hits, and 29 quarterback hurries in 286 pass-rushing snaps. He'd be an ideal bookend for Danielle Hunter, who lost his 2020 season to a neck injury. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/lists/2021-nfl-draft-edge-rushers-jaelan-phillips-azeez-ojulari-kwity-paye/
15. Baltimore Ravens (from New England Patriots): Trevon Moehrig, S, Northwestern
(Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports)
Terms of the trade: The Baltimore Ravens get the New England Patriots' 15th overall pick. The New England Patriots get the Baltimore Ravens' 27th. 95th, and 105th overall picks. Last season, per Pro Football Focus, Baltimore's safeties combined and conspired to allow 60 receptions on 89 targets for 588 yards, 264 yards after the catch, five touchdowns, and just one interception. Not great, Bob. And while the Ravens had decent slot coverage with safety Chuck Clark and cornerback Marlon Humphrey, things could be better -- and they would be were Ravens GM Eric DeCosta to call up his old buddy Bill Belichick and barter for the 15th overall pick with Moehrig in mind. Moehrig reminds me of Minkah Fitzpatrick because he's able to play credibly everywhere from the box to the slot to the deep third, but he might be at his best as a free safety, which is where the Ravens could absolutely use him. Over three seasons with the Horned Frogs, Moehrig allowed just 49 receptions on 96 targets for 533 yards, 253 yards after the catch, five touchdowns, seven interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 54.7.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Greg Newsome, CB, Northwestern
(Nikos Frazier-USA TODAY NETWORK)
The Cardinals need a lead dog at the cornerback position -- last season, their cornerbacks allowed 15 touchdowns and had just seven interceptions, and Patrick Peterson is off the Cardinals roster for the first time since 2010. Redoing that cornerback room will be tough, but Arizona would be wise to start with Newsome, who allowed just 12 catches on 34 targets last season for 93 yards, 49 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, one interception, and an opponent passer rating of 31.7. And on passes of 20 air yards or more, Newsome was the NCAA's ultimate deep eraser, allowing no catches on seven deep targets. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/03/10/2021-nfl-draft-cornerback-greg-newsome-northwestern-pro-day/
17. Las Vegas Raiders: Teven Jenkins, OL, Oklahoma State
(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
The Raiders decided this offseason to offload most of their offensive line, and that included right tackle Trent Brown, who's back in Foxboro now. The plan is obviously to develop a new, younger, cheaper front five with line coach Tom Cable in charge of that process, and while people in Seattle will tell you how that works out (Spoiler: not well), but that's what it is. And when you look at the kinds of tackles Cable likes, it's guys who are tough in the run game, and show pure physical dominance. Cable will forgive technical issues in pass-blocking, which makes Jenkins the ideal pick (and possible overdraft) here. Jenkins is the most physically imposing tackle in this class, but his issues with protecting the arc and mirroring speed rushers from side to side may eventually prompt a move inside. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/lists/2021-nfl-draft-guards-centers/
18. Miami Dolphins: Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina
(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports)
Running backs don't matter? Don't tell the North Carolina Tar Heels that, because they quite enjoyed Javonte Williams' production last season, when Williams ran for 1.140 yards and 19 touchdowns on just 157 carries. By far the best power and contact balance runner in this class, Williams also brings next-level acceleration and receiving ability to the table, and he blocks with a linebacker's mentality. In 2020, Williams led the NCAA with 75 missed tackles forced, and he ranked second behind his teammate Michael Carter with 27 carries of 15 or more yards. 18 is a high pick for a running back in today's NFL, but not every back comes out of college with Williams' skill set. If you imagine an unholy combination of Marshawn Lynch and Nick Chubb, you're on the right track. The Dolphins are still looking to define their run game, and Williams has the entire dictionary. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/02/23/2021-nfl-draft-javonte-williams-michael-carter-najee-harris-2021-running-backs-nfl-draft/
19. Washington Football Team: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
(Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports)
With five former first-round picks on their defensive line, and the brilliant acquisition of cornerback William Jackson III in free agency, the Football Team is setting itself up to have perhaps the NFL's best defense in 2021. They ranked third last season behind only the Steelers and Saints in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics, so it's not a far-fetched claim. The one thing that could push Ron Rivera's defense over the top is the addition of a true table-setting linebacker who can blitz, blow up run fits, and has the agility to cover all over the field. Parsons qualifies on all counts. Built like a terrifying strong safety at 6-foot-3 and 246 pounds, Parsons has a rare combination of blitz ability, run-stopping and coverage potential that would give Rivera a taste of the linebacker talent he had with the Panthers in Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.
20. New York Giants (from Chicago Bears): Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss
(Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports)
Terms of the trade: The Chicago Bears get the New York Giants' 11th overall pick. The New York Giants get the Chicago Bears' 20th and 84th overall picks. In this scenario, Dave Gettleman trades down, gets an extra third-round pick, and still gets an optimal playmaker in the passing game to optimize things for quarterback Daniel Jones. Adding Moore to a receiver group already accentuated by the addition of Kenny Golladay in free agency would give Jones a slot and outside weapon capable of taking it to the house on everything from quick screens to deep posts. In 2020, Moore caught 22 passes behind the line of scrimmage for 94 yards and a touchdown, and he had 11 receptions on 19 targets of 20 or more air yards for 490 yards and four touchdowns.
21. Indianapolis Colts: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
(Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
The Colts need edge help as well, but they can get it later in the draft, and the primary requirement this roster presents is a left tackle to capably replace the retired Anthony Castonzo. This is especially true given how new starting quarterback Carson Wentz performed under pressure last season, with a 39.2% completion rate, four touchdowns, and five interceptions for the Eagles. Right now, Julie'n Davenport is the projected LT1, which is fine if you want a guy who has allowed 19 sacks in 1,213 pass-blocking snaps throughout his career. It would be better for Wentz and the entire Colts offense if general manager Chris Ballard were to avail himself of Darrisaw, who refused to allow a single sack or quarterback hit in 293 pass-blocking snaps last season, showing great improvement on the edge. And if you want a left tackle with some nasty in him to line up to Quenton Nelson's left... well, Darrisaw qualifies. https://twitter.com/BenFennell_NFL/status/1315354410151804930
22. Tennessee Titans: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
(Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)
Now that the Titans have boosted their edge-rush prowess with Bud Dupree and Denico Autry in free agency, it's time to turn their attention to a cornerback group that lost its most efficient 2020 member, Malcolm Butler, to the Cardinals. Janoris Jenkins is a nice fill-in if Tennessee wants to play more zone coverage (which the Titans should, because they were absolutely atrocious last season when they played man), but more needs to be done. There are legitimate medical questions about Farley's back, which is why he could fall to this spot, and he unfortunately will miss the draft in person after testing positive for COVID. But when he's on the field, Farley is the best versatile cornerback in this class, with the ability to play man and zone equally well; press and off-coverage. Farley proved in 2019 (he opted out in 2020) that quarterbacks were not going to beat him anywhere on the field -- against throws of 10-19 air yards, he allowed one completion on 12 targets. And against throws of 20 or more air yards, he gave up four catches on 15 targets. Farley could be the steal of the draft if the medicals check out over time.
23. New York Jets: Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
(Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)
The absence of top cornerbacks here complicates the Jets' most pressing need. They could try and trade up, or wait until the second round for a guy like Georgia's Eric Stokes, who seems to fit what new head coach Robert Saleh likes at the position -- athleticism, press ability, and coverage consistency. Perhaps the Jets even surprise and take Stokes here. But if Ojulari is still around at 23, that would be a tough one to pass up. Yes, the Jets gave Carl Lawson a three-year, $45 million contract, and that's great, but Tarell Basham led all Jets edge-rushers last season with 21 total pressures, which is... not good. Ojulari would combine with Lawson and Vinny Curry to bring a lot more juice off the edge -- in 2020, he had 9.5 sacks, eight quarterback hits, and 20 quarterback hurries -- his second straight season of excellent edge disruption.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT, USC
(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
Could the Steelers take a running back like Alabama's Najee Harris here? Sure. Should they? Not with a bunch of hits along their offensive line, including the departure of left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. The Steelers ran more short drops than any other team last season in their passing game, which helped the protection to a point, but general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin are at an inflection point with that offensive line. Vera-Tucker, who played right and left guard for the Trojans in 2018 and 2019, flipped to left tackle in 2020 and held up very well. Outside of the two sacks he allowed to Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux, who will likely be a top-five pick next year, Vera-Tucker gave up just two sacks, two quarterback hits, and two quarterback hurries in 305 pass-blocking snaps. There isn't a lot of work he needs at any position, which makes him an ideal Steeler on Thursday night.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars: Christian Barmore, IDL, Alabama
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
Last season, the Jaguars ranked 28th in running back yards per carry allowed (4.84), and they struggled in the defensive interior in short-yardage and power situations. Former Bears defensive tackle Roy Robertson-Harris was a sneaky-good acquisition in free agency, but the Jags could use further reinforcement here. Barmore is the best of an iffy group of interior defensive linemen in this class -- he can win anywhere along the line, he's got an advanced array of techniques to deal with NFL-level blockers, and while you'd like to see a bit more nastiness in his game, Barmore is a plug-and-play guy from Day 1 where the Jaguars have a specific need.
26. Cleveland Browns: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB/S, Notre Dame
(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)
Owusu-Koramoah is one of the more intriguing players in this class, regardless of position, because he can play just about any defensive position. Last season, he played 331 snaps in the slot, 212 in the box, 88 on the defensive line, 14 at outside cornerback, and two at free safety. He's a true linebacker/safety hybrid at a time when NFL teams value that hybrid role more than ever. Why, then, might be drop this far? As much as teams value players like this, they don't always know how to utilize their skill sets. We saw this with Isaiah Simmons last season -- the Cardinals took him with the eighth overall pick, and struggled to find his ideal spot as if he was a new piano in a living room. Owusu-Koramoah's similar versatility might have teams wondering things they shouldn't be wondering, but all it takes is one team to benefit, and the Browns would be getting a huge steal here with needs at both the linebacker and safety posotions. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/lists/2021-nfl-draft-jeremiah-owusu-koramoah-trevon-moehrig/
27. New England Patriots (from Baltimore Ravens): Elijah Molden, S/Slot, Washington
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
Terms of the trade: The Baltimore Ravens get the New England Patriots' 15th overall pick. The New England Patriots get the Baltimore Ravens' 27th. 95th, and 105th overall picks. Death taxes, and Bill Belichick not only trading down, but taking a player early who has everybody going, "Uhhh... WHAT?!?!?" In this instance, Molden is the defensive back who could help the Patriots solve their coverage and slot issues that popped up last season. At 5-foot-9 and 192, Molden may be limited to a primary slot role at the NFL level, but that's not a bad limitation, as he's been the NCAA's most consistent inside defender, and he can also roll deep in coverage -- last season, when defending passes of 20 or more air yards, he allowed five completions on 13 targets. Molden can help in the run game, but he's at his best when defending in the intermediate and deep areas.
28. New Orleans Saints: Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse
(AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)
Sean Payton recently said that the Saints must upgrade at the cornerback position, and no team played more snaps in man coverage than New Orleans last season -- 274 pass defense snaps, including the postseason. If defensive coordinator Dennis Allen is to keep that schematic pattern going in 2021, Melifonwu would be an ideal fit. In man coverage last season, Melifonwu allowed just 12 receptions on 25 targets for 172 yards, 53 yards after the catch, one touchdown, one interception, and an opponent passer rating of 67.4. Melifonwu wouldn't be an ideal fit for every defense, but for what the Saints have wanted to do? He's plug-and-play.
29. Green Bay Packers: Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
(Nikos Frazier | Journal & Courier-Imagn Content Services, LLC)
The Packers have steadfastly refused to give Aaron Rodgers the additional weapons he seems to want, and as Rodgers picked up his third NFL MVP award in 2020, things worked out okay. But let's bring this logjam to an end with the addition of Moore, who may be able to run a more complete route tree than he had at Purdue, but immediately fits one need the Packers have -- for an explosive target on shorter throws. In 2020, Rodgers attempted 107 passes behind the line of scrimmage, third in the NFL behind Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes. Rodgers completed 96 of those passes for 594 yards and two touchdowns. Mahomes, with more after-catch weapons, had nine touchdowns on such plays. Adding Moore to Green Bay's offense would not only give Rodgers a screen target who could explode upfield at any time, but an underrated slot receiver with toughness that belies his 5-foot-7, 180-pound frame. https://twitter.com/BoilerFootball/status/1261058889388298241
30. Buffalo Bills: Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State
(AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
This is not a pick to improve Buffalo's slot cornerback position -- the Bills have Taron Johnson there, and Johnson mans the slot quite ably. No, the addition of the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Samuel would be to buttress an outside cornerback group that struggled when Tre'Davious White was injured last season and not playing at his best. Levi Wallace has been hit-and-miss in coverage, and even if he's able to improve in 2021, there's still a need for more at the position. Including the postseason, only the Chiefs had more snaps with five or more defensive backs last season than Buffalo's 560, and only the Buccaneers and Packers allowed more touchdowns in nickel than Buffalo's 32 -- and the Bills had just seven picks with five DBs. Samuel doesn't fit the height/weight profile of the modern outside cornerback, but the tape shows a guy with every other attribute to succeed. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2021/03/19/asante-samuel-jr-2021-nfl-draft/
31. Baltimore Ravens (from Kansas City Chiefs): Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
(Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)
I had considered multiple edge-rushers for the Ravens in this spot, but maybe our buddy Trevor is on to something here. https://twitter.com/TampaBayTre/status/1386739890491170819 After losing Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency, there's a clear need for edge pressure for the NFL's blitzingest team over the last two seasons. Paye fits the bill from a tools perspective -- you don't see too many 6-foot-2, 261-pound humans with his combination of strength and athleticism. Paye can win on the edge and when he's kicked inside -- he had just two sacks in four games last season (both in his first game against Minnesota), but that doesn't account for the four quarterback hits, 16 quarterback hurries, and 13 stops in just 258 total snaps. Like a lot of young defensive linemen, Paye is still aligning his athletic gifts with the techniques that will give him even more production. When that happens, watch out.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas
(Jay Janner-USA TODAY NETWORK)
With the Wednesday signing of receiver Antonio Brown, the Buccaneers are in a position of continuity you rarely see with defending Super Bowl champions. https://twitter.com/FieldYates/status/1387378439242530816 With that in mind, the Bucs don't have a ton of pressing needs in their quest to "run it back." Perhaps reinforcements along the defensive line would be smart at this point in time, though Shaquil Barrett was the NFL's most productive outside pass-rusher last season with 98 total pressures, and Jason Pierre-Paul added 65 pressures of his own. But you can never have too many high-caliber edge-rushers, and Ossai has the combination of positional versatility and edge strength that could make him a top-level front-seven guy over time. Ossai was more of an off-ball linebacker in 2019, switching to defensive end in 2020, and he shows the kind of short-area speed and agility to beat blockers from multiple gaps. He'd be a potentially stunning rotational role-player in a Todd Bowles defense that already gives opposing quarterbacks fits from a pressure perspective.