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Mocktober has almost come and gone. So we decided it was time to break out our first projection of how Round 1 — plus Day 2 picks for the teams lacking first-round selections — of the 2021 NFL draft is shaping up. This would be the draft order if the season ended prior to Week 8.
Much will change. The Big Ten is one week into its season. The Pac-12 and a few other stragglers get started next week. There will be major shifts between now and April, assuming the draft isn’t pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mocktober’s accuracy tends to be scattershot. So our best advice? Just have fun and don’t complain if your team didn’t get the prospect you might want right now.
Sure, there is chatter about Lawrence possibly returning to school in 2021. Do we buy it? Absolutely not.
And the Jets can’t take Lawrence and assume he’ll invoke magic on this flawed roster as he needs major help.
Bypassing Lawrence isn’t an option for New York. Lawrence is a once-a-decade QB prospect, and the team has endured countless whiffs at the position over decades. If he’s given the proper assistance, Lawrence has the chance to be the best Jets quarterback ever. Yes, even better than Broadway Joe.
Who is making this pick? If it’s general manager Dave Gettleman, we’ll bet on him giving Daniel Jones one more chance in 2021. Gettleman has never traded down. That could mean the Giants would stand pat and take the best non-QB available.
Should they feel great about selecting an offensive lineman, even a great one such as Sewell, at No. 2 overall after using the No. 4 overall pick on Andrew Thomas, who has struggled to date? No, but such is the conundrum the Giants would face if there’s no front-office shakeup.
Sewell also looks like he could be an All-Pro guard, and there were some evaluators who said Thomas’ best spot in the NFL could be inside.
The Gardner Minshew run was fun for a minute, wasn’t it? But he has the makeup of a high-quality backup, so Minshew shouldn’t preclude the Jags from passing on a quarterback in 2021 if they land in this range.
Fields is the kind of competitor and dual threat this team could use. Imagine the fun stuff the Jags can draw up with Fields, D.J. Chark, Laviska Shenault Jr., James Robinson and Collin Johnson. This could be an offense that really takes off in the coming years, depending on who the next coaches are.
If the Falcons are ready for life after Matt Ryan, it might sting a bit if they see the ATL suburb-bred Fields go elsewhere. And sure, they could take a highly rated non-QB and do pretty well for themselves. But the time would appear to be nigh to find Ryan’s eventual replacement.
Figuring out what to do with Ryan is tricky from a financial standpoint, as he carries a hefty dead-money number for next year. If he can be convinced to stay and mentor the immensely talented Lance — he of the 17 starts at the FCS level — it could be a smooth transition for the next coach and the next era in Atlanta.
5. Miami Dolphins (from Houston Texans)
Funny that the Dolphins would land back in the five-slot a year after nabbing Tua Tagovailoa there in 2020 — and that it might not have a thing to do with the Dolphins’ failures. Thanks, Texans!
A few impact defenders might tickle Brian Flores’ fancy but pairing Chase with Tua — his former SEC rival — could be too tempting to resist. We’d love to see Tua throwing to Chase, DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki and Preston Williams. Wouldn’t you?
Our first bold call. You’d think a quarterback would be in play, given Kirk Cousins’ struggles. But is Wilson that good?
He has been excellent this season. And it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but one year ago, Joe Burrow was more in that late first-round picture and just starting to receive mention as a possible top-10 pick.
If Wilson keeps firing away, don’t be stunned to see him go this high, even if BYU hasn’t faced a good defense yet. As one veteran evaluator reminded us this summer, “Quarterbacks always go higher than you think.” For this exercise, and in the sake of wanting to look smart down the road, we hope they’re right.
7. Cincinnati Bengals
There’s sadly no offensive lineman here who would be worth taking this high. Short of addressing Joe Burrow’s protection, there’s also the matter of upgrading a pass defense that ranks in the bottom 10 in multiple categories. With William Jackson III set to hit free agency, the wonderfully talented Surtain could either replace Jackson if he walks or pair with him to make a strong duo outside.
And a fun tie-in: Patrick Surtain Sr., who had a terrific career with the Dolphins and Chiefs, played his final NFL game in 2008 at Cincinnati. Bob Bicknell, the Chiefs’ WRs coach that year, is now on the Bengals’ coaching staff.
8. Dallas Cowboys
Farley opting out complicates his draft projection, and there will be teams that do not view him as a top-eight prospect. He has a nice makeup with size (6-foot-2, 200 pounds), athleticism and ball skills that could land him in this range, especially for a defense-hungry team such as Dallas.
Farley’s testing could loom large. And the Cowboys might opt for a pass rusher or offensive lineman here if the right one falls into their laps. If it’s Farley, it would give them two longer corners to help make their heavy usage of Cover 3 better. (We think.)
9. Washington Football Team
There’s a strong case to be made for Ron Rivera’s team looking for a quarterback in this draft, given that Dwayne Haskins’ future in Washington is murky and the Kyle Allen returns have been less than spectacular, even with back-to-back solid starts.
Still, we’ll pair up one of the best mismatch pieces in the entire 2021 class with a team that badly needs offensive weaponry. Think of Pitts as a king-sized receiver.
Joining him with Terry McLaurin and the intriguing Antonio Gibson gives long-range hope for WFT’s offense.
10. Los Angeles Chargers
Another edge? Well, Melvin Ingram is a 2021 free agent who turns 32 in April, and the team could save some money by letting him walk. Uchenna Nwosu, who has cut into Ingram’s playing time, looks like a nice player. But a team can never have too many pass rushers.
Rousseau, who has top-five talent, is a project. He has only one full season of college football and he opted out this season, so his projection requires a leap of faith.
The Chargers have the kind of setup where Rousseau can be brought along at a proper clip without massive Year 1 expectations weighing him down.
11. New England Patriots
Wait, y’all would let this happen?
The Patriots badly need offensive help but could Bill Belichick — who might have even more draft autonomy if the front office shuffles things this offseason — pass up a linebacker of this quality here?
No, for now.
Parsons is an elite athlete who could be mentored and taught the finer points of the position by, well, the entire Belichick family, plus Dont’a Hightower, and add some much needed speed (and playmaking) to a slow LB unit.
12. Denver Broncos
In the opener against Nebraska, Wade played 31 snaps at right corner, 12 more on the left and only one in the slot. He played well.
The inside is where Wade has made his home for most of the 2018 and 2019 seasons. How he fares outside ultimately will determine his landing spot.
The Broncos have A.J. Bouye hitting the salary cap at $13.5 million next year and could move on from him with no dead money. Bryce Callahan mans the slot well, and 2020 third-rounder Michael Ojemudia is worth continuing to develop. Wade could add another playmaker to a secondary that has only three picks in six games.
13. Carolina Panthers
After spending all seven picks on the defensive side of the ball last spring, the Panthers shift over to the offensive side for help. Sure, they could use talent on the offensive line or at tight end. But envision offensive coordinator Joe Brady banging on the table to add Marshall, who broke out under him in 2019 (he’s even better in 2020), to an already talented WRs room.
How do you cover Christian McCaffery, Robby Anderson, D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel and Marshall? Just run “10 personnel” all game and destroy people. Teddy Bridewater’s patented smile would be even wider.
Imagine if you’re the Dolphins, you’ve already taken Ja’Marr Chase and now you’re here at 14 with one of the best defenders in the draft — at a need position.
Moses has been up and down this season. I suspect he’s still getting his sea legs under him after missing all of 2019 with a knee injury. Before that, plus in flashes this season (see the Missouri game), Moses has displayed impact potential. He’s the latest in a long line of great Bama ’backers and would help upgrade a spot that has some nice players.
This might be higher than some would have Moses going. But as the Dolphins’ 2020 draft after the Tua pick showed up, they seem more interested in specific fits for their team and less so in observing league-wide draft value.
15. Las Vegas Raiders
A month from now, this pick could look outdated. If Paye keeps stacking impressive showings like the one he turned in last week against Minnesota, he might be bound for the top 10. Paye is expected to blow up the scouting combine testing, too, so don’t expect him to last too long either way.
The Raiders have Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby aboard, so it might feel like overkill. But there’s no rule against having three good pass rushers on the same team. In fact, general manager Mike Mayock often cited the old New York Giants as an example of that — back in the Michael Strahan-Osi Umenyiora-Justin Tuck-Mathias Kiwanuka days — when Mayock was a member of the media.
16. Detroit Lions
The Lions have some salary-cap issues next year. Can they afford to pay Kenny Golladay close to $20 million annually? At worst, they can franchise tag him and put off the decision a year.
Waddle’s status remains in limbo following a season-ending ankle injury. Assuming he rehabilitates fine, Waddle displayed some game-changing ability in Bama’s first four games, scoring four TDs and averaging 139.3 yards per game.
Marvin Jones is also a 2021 free agent, so adding Waddle could make a lot of sense here. Can you imagine that guy running routes on the Ford Field turf, catching passes from Matthew Stafford? We can.
17. San Francisco 49ers
Assuming Smith’s medical reports come back clean after he missed time in the 2018 season with blood clots, he’d be a good fit here. The 49ers could use some interior help, and some teams believe Smith can fit at tackle (where he played for parts of his first two seasons), so he’s a possible long-term replacement for Trent Williams.
A defensive back might also make sense here, but I think the 49ers might really be struck by Smith’s toughness and power.
18. New Orleans Saints
There are roughly a zillion questions about the Saints’ future, starting with who the 2021 starting QB will be. Assuming Sean Payton addresses that outside the draft, cornerback is also a hot spot that could use addressing.
Janoris Jenkins carries a $14.1 million salary-cap number into his age-32 season, and Marshon Lattimore and Patrick Robinson will be headed into the final years of their respective deals in 2021.
Sure, the son of Joe Horn would be a feel-good story getting picked by New Orleans. But Jaycee is making a name for himself as a talented press-man corner, so the football reasons would be more than justified to take him here.
19. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have some young linebackers on their roster with decent pedigrees. Yet why so much Nate Gerry this season?
It’s unfair to pick on one player of an underachieving unit, but it’s been hard not to notice Gerry being involved in so many coverage busts this season.
Owusu-Koramoah has been terrific in coverage for the Irish in 2020, and he seems to fit the mold of the modern hybrid defender — small linebacker meets big safety — the NFL is gaga about. Granted, the Eagles presumably took Davion Taylor to fit that role this spring, but he has barely seen the field.
20. Indianapolis Colts
Philip Rivers turns 39 in December and mostly has looked it this season, outside of him carving up the Bengals. It’s going to be hard to envision him coming back as the no-doubt starter next season. And even then, he can’t come back without a young passer in tow, depending on what you think of Jacob Eason.
Trask has a nice arm, and he seems to have sped up his entire process this season. He still could stand to get rid of the ball more cleanly, but we love how he holds up amid pressure and can deliver strikes. It makes you wonder how high his ceiling would be had he played more football — first as D’Eriq King’s high school backup and then during his first few years with the Gators, when he mostly sat and watched.
21. Cleveland Browns
Olivier Vernon is a free agent next spring, and Adrian Clayborn is slowing down. Even with Myles Garrett and Porter Gustin, the Browns know they likely need to reinforce the edge spot.
Hutchinson was overshadowed by Michigan teammate Kwity Paye in the opener but has a very high ceiling. He also played well vs. Minnesota and profiles as a top-40 pick if he continues ascending.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jason Pierre-Paul remains viable at this stage of his career, and Shaquil Barrett has made his impact felt despite not matching his insane 2019 production. Still, adding a third hombre to the rush unit would make a lot of sense.
Oweh is a super toolsy, raw rusher who figures to be a huge beneficiary of the Big Ten returning to action this season. He was terrific in the opening loss to Indiana, seemingly crashing into the backfield every other play. Keep that up and Oweh could end up higher than this.
23. Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams)
In the 2020 draft, Jacksonville went defense-defense with their two Round 1 picks. This year, the offense receives a pair of blue-chip talents up high. Justin Fields to Freiermuth would be a fun combo in time, and it would just add another layer to an emerging group of young playmakers.
Freiermuth wouldn’t be asked to carry the load early and can develop at a proper rate. It’s similar in that respect to the K’Lavon Chaisson pick in this range a year ago, as he’s still in that developmental stage. And that’s fine.
I could see an offensive lineman here (or more defensive help), but we can’t resist giving Justin Fields a middle-of-the-field weapon.
24. Buffalo Bills
I was surprised this summer to hear how well-regarded Kendrick was among some NFL talent evaluators given that the last time we had seen him on the field, LSU was leaving burn marks all over Kendrick’s jersey in the national title game. The more we looked into him, the more interested we’ve become.
And wouldn’t you know? Kendrick has been outstanding this season, not allowing a catch (with one INT and two passes defended) in his four games. Two years ago, Kendrick was catching passes as a wide receiver from Trevor Lawrence; now he is emerging into an intriguing corner who could bolster that position long term in Buffalo.
25. Chicago Bears
GM Ryan Pace has drafted two offensive tackles in six years — sixth-rounder Tayo Fabuluje in 2015, his first draft, and seventh-rounder Arlington Hambright in April. Hambright remains on the roster but is a complete unknown. It would be smart to plan for an eventual replacement for Charles Leno at left tackle or Bobby Massie on the right side.
Cosmi played right tackle for the Longhorns in 2018, left tackle the past two seasons. He’s a fluid athlete (he grabbed a TD catch in 2019) with agile feet, nice length and projectable traits for the next level. Adding more sand in his pants could be in order, but Cosmi would be a nice fit for Matt Nagy’s offense.
26. Arizona Cardinals
Our friend at Pro Football Focus, Mike Renner, first opened our eyes to Moehrig earlier this year. (Mike, if you’re reading: thanks.) We knew Moehrig had balls skills coming off a four-INTs, 12-PD season in 2019, but we were pleasantly shocked at how explosive an athlete he was. He’s expected to be an NFL scouting combine star.
Last week’s game against Oklahoma was perhaps Moehrig’s best outing of the 2020 season, even while the Sooners rolled. Moehrig knocked away all three passes thrown his direction and had the kind of alluring range and hitting ability that would make him a perfect fit on this Cardinals defense full of versatile athletes.
Could they surprise and go receiver here? Or a back such as Clemson’s Travis Etienne?
27. Jets (from Seattle Seahawks)
Hardly a sexy pick, but who cares? The Jets need interior offensive line help badly, and you can’t draft Lawrence and expect him to produce behind shoddy blocking. Davis is a gifted mover with serious pop in his upper body, plus the lower-body strength to drive a run game.
Although Davis looked, via casual glance, rusty in the opener against Nebraska, his reputation is strong in NFL circles after dominating in 2019. Davis has the look of a longtime starter inside and a nice building block for the Jets at a need position.
28. Baltimore Ravens
This is almost too perfect. We honestly thought Smith could end up higher on this list going into the process, but this is how it worked out. He’s such a high-energy, high-production receiver that we feel you can throw out the numbers — the average length, the lean frame and the so-so track speed.
Don’t stress so much about that and watch the tape of Smith blowtorching defenders on a weekly basis. One reason why we love a potential pairing with him and Lamar Jackson so much is that Smith has appeared to make catches on a weekly basis the past few seasons by coming back to the ball on broken or extended plays.
He’s also another deep threat for the Ravens who could pair beautifully with Hollywood Brown and Devin Duvernay next year. The Ravens strangely are near the bottom of the league in yards after the catch. Smith — who has 307 of his 556 yards after the catch this season — could help change that.
29. Tennessee Titans
Jadeveon Clowney might continue his itinerant path and end up elsewhere next year, and it’s hard to imagine Vic Beasley coming back unless he heats up soon. So the Titans target an annual sore spot for a defense that still gives up too many passing yards and doesn’t pressure quarterbacks consistently.
Roche’s pass-rush technique is refined enough to step right into the Clowney role for Mike Vrabel’s defense if the veteran moves on in the offseason. If pass rusher isn’t deemed as big a worry, we could see Tennessee looking for help at receiver or an interior defensive lineman.
30. Kansas City Chiefs
Perhaps the Chiefs feel that Demarcus Robinson is on the right trajectory, but we could envision Bateman as a natural replacement for Sammy Watkins in 2021.
Offensive guard and tackle are spots to watch. So is adding more depth on defense. But our guess is that the Chiefs would feel the value of getting Bateman here might be too good. Another name we considered: USC WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, who could be on the verge of a huge season.
31. Green Bay Packers
There ... are you happy now? In an effort that’s partly meant to fill a long-term need, and partly to end the silly first-round receiver chatter in Packers circles, Olave makes a lot of sense in Green Bay.
One reason he’s a good fit here is that Olave runs routes like a seasoned pro, a prerequisite for anyone who wants to earn Aaron Rodgers’ trust before their third NFL season. Olave is a quality glider who changes gears effortlessly, although we would like to see more physicality to his game.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers
Basham’s high-energy style would fit well on a Steelers defense that could need another outside rusher, depending on what happens with Bud Dupree as he hits free agency or whether the team feels 2020 third-rounder Alex Highsmith is ready to step into the spot.
Either way, this is outstanding value. Basham has only helped his draft cause after earning some first-round grades this summer, and he has similar size and athleticism as Dupree.
Teams without first-round picks
(We simulated the rest of Rounds 2 and 3 to help come up with these selections.)
The Rams could add help to all three levels of its defense, and the offensive line likely needs further addressing. But we couldn’t bypass a top-50 talent such as Surratt, who can help upgrade an ordinary LB unit. His athleticism and QB-of-the-defense smarts make him a great fit here.
In what feels like an annual tradition, here I am again mocking the Seahawks the best OL prospect available. He could go much higher than this. He’s moving to left tackle this season (after opting back into playing) and could really make himself some money. Otherwise, Vera-Tucker could be a fine guard as well.
All the way down in Round 3, Houston is finally on the clock. Who is their head coach? Their GM? No clue. Whoever ends up shaping the Texans’ roster would certainly benefit from upgrading the secondary. Thomas, a tough and instinctive (although slim) corner, opted out of the season but was earning some Day 2 grades from scouts this summer.
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