The NFL Draft — one of the few offseason events that remains a hot topic 12 months, 52 weeks, and 365 days a year. The context surrounding the NFL Draft is always changing. For example, up until the start of the 2020 season, every listed team need qualified as a projection. But now, the football on the field gives us new, concrete ideas of what teams need, and what teams will be in the market for next April. In this 3-round 2021 NFL mock draft, we’ll strive to integrate newly-available information to the best of our ability.
Before we get started, I want to preface the mock draft with this: Yes, your favorite team is picking too high. It’s too early to drastically change the initial draft order, and while some NFL teams surprised in Week 1 and showed that they could exceed expectations in 2020, we’re not at a point where we can run with those trends. By the end of the 2020 season, however, the 2021 NFL Draft order may look very different than what’s listed below.
That’s the beauty of the NFL Draft. We work with the information we have, and new information always comes in. What does the information we have now tell us?
Cummings’ 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft | Round One
1) Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB Clemson
All due respect to Gardner Minshew — he had a very good first week, against a Colts defense that was expected to be proficient both schematically and talent-wise in 2020. Minshew has proven himself to be a capable passer with good traits all-around, but if the Jaguars have the number one pick, with five total picks on Days 1 and 2, they aren’t in a position to settle.
Trevor Lawrence has astronomical upside at the quarterback position. He exceeds Minshew in terms of athleticism, arm talent, and proactivity as a playmaker. Minshew is a plain bagel; he gets you through the day well enough. But sooner or later, the plain bagel gets old, loses its luster, and doesn’t provide enough nutritional value. If you can get an everything bagel, you go for it.
2) Washington Football Team: Penei Sewell, OT Oregon
The Washington Football Team shocked the nation in Week 1 with an impressive upset of the Philadelphia Eagles, but it was their defense that led the way. The offense was less inspiring, and part of the blame can be attributed to the offensive line.
Washington doesn’t seem to have an answer yet at the left tackle position, and with Dwayne Haskins still developing, that’s not a position they should neglect for long. Saahdiq Charles could take on that role at some point, but he’s already behind due to injury. If Washington gets Penei Sewell, a bonafide blindside blocker with All-Pro upside, they can move Charles to guard and solidify their blocking unit in one stroke.
3) Cincinnati Bengals: Caleb Farley, CB Virginia Tech
A cornerback at third overall two years in a row? It’s unlikely, but if there’s any cornerback in the 2021 NFL Draft who deserves to go this high, it’s Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley. The Bengals could also go linebacker here, but they drafted three young linebackers in 2020, and have a chance to more directly impact the passing defense with Farley.
Farley is an elite size-speed threat on the boundary who lives to break up passes. With four interceptions and 12 pass deflections in 2019, the 6-foot-2 cover man appeals to teams looking for a playmaker. The Bengals have one already in William Jackson III, but they need another to back him up on the opposite side of the field, as Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes don’t inspire great confidence.
4) Carolina Panthers: Trey Lance, QB North Dakota State
The most compelling discussion at quarterback this offseason has been regarding who can step up and take the QB4 spot in the 2021 NFL Draft. But perhaps another discussion that deserves more attention is how close the gap between Justin Fields and Trey Lance is.
Both Lance and Fields have stellar production, and both are elite positional athletes, but most people defer to Fields because of his competition level. With that being said, Lance is just as efficient, and arguably has more tangible, universal accuracy than Fields. With Teddy Bridgewater contractually secured, Matt Rhule can split hairs here, and take the gamble on the riskier quarterback, with greater eventual rewards in mind.
5) Miami Dolphins: Micah Parsons, LB Penn State
After Brian Flores rallied his Dolphins to go 5-4 in their final nine games in 2019, optimism abounds in South Florida. The job isn’t done yet, however, as Week 1 showed; Flores still has to finish incubating Tua Tagovailoa with strong support on offense, and he has to keep the pipeline of talent flowing on defense.
The Dolphins show promise, but they still have a sizable amount of needs. That helps them here, however, as they’ll be able to play the value of the board and choose the best available player. In this case, that’s linebacker Micah Parsons: an athletic, fast-paced second-level talent with a tremendous degree of versatility.
6) New York Giants: Patrick Surtain II, CB Alabama
The Giants are in dire need of sustainable improvement at cornerback, one of the most important positions on the field. They have invested resources into the position, but most of those investments have come up dry so far, not the least of which was the team’s ill-fated selection of DeAndre Baker in 2019.
In a division that hosts Jalen Reagor, DeSean Jackson, Terry McLaurin, and the talent-laden Cowboys’ receiving trio, the Giants can’t afford to keep missing at cornerback. They have to hit in the 2021 NFL Draft, and they’ll probably use an early pick to ensure their best chances of success. Patrick Surtain II, a smart, agile 6-foot-2 cornerback, may give them a better return on investment.
7) Detroit Lions: Dylan Moses, LB Alabama
Even with two years of Matt Patricia in the books, the Lions still have a lot of problems on the defensive side of the ball, specifically their defensive line, linebacker group, and secondary.
Jokes aside, the Lions do have some pieces in place, and adding Jeff Okudah in the 2020 NFL Draft certainly helped, but there’s still a substantial talent gap that Detroit has to traverse if they want to compete. One need they can fill at No. 7 is that of a field general — a three-down linebacker who can be relied upon. Dylan Moses has the athleticism, football I.Q., and physicality to fulfill that role.
8) New York Jets: Ja’Marr Chase, WR LSU
If there’s one thing we can all agree upon after the first week of the 2020 season, it’s that the Jets have the NFL’s worst skill position group on offense. Sam Darnold has virtually nothing to work with, and if New York wants to salvage his development, they’ll have to act fast, and invest in bulk.
Ja’Marr Chase opted out of the 2020 college football season to prepare for the NFL Draft. Lesser-known players might experience losses with this kind of decision, but Chase doesn’t have to worry about that. After a 2019 campaign that saw him rack up 84 catches, 1,780 yards, and 20 touchdowns, he’s firmly a top-three receiver on almost every draft board. With his high floor and complete skill set, he fits the Jets’ needs to a tee.
9) Arizona Cardinals: Abraham Lucas, OT Washington State
This will no doubt come as a surprise, as Washington State’s Abraham Lucas is a rare first-round inclusion to this point. Swooping into the top-ten, out of nowhere, is a big deal, but there’s a reason for this pick.
Lucas isn’t as close to Penei Sewell as this selection insinuates, but he’s still a supremely athletic tackle and has a dominant 6-foot-7, 324-pound frame. He also has experience in a pass-oriented offensive system with now-Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach, so there should be some overlap as he works to adopt Kliff Kingsbury’s scheme.
10) Las Vegas Raiders: Marvin Wilson, DT Florida State
Interior pressure is an underrated yet necessary component of modern NFL defense, and the Las Vegas Raiders are painstakingly marginal in that regard. Their 2018 second-round pick, P.J. Hall, did not pan out, and their current starting duo, Johnathan Hankins and Maliek Collins, is very underwhelming.
Maurice Hurst provides a spark on a rotational basis, but the Raiders need more to supplement their young, promising edge duo. They need Marvin Wilson — a mammoth interior lineman who brings disruptive power and explosiveness to the field, and who will likely pace this year’s defensive tackle class.
11) Los Angeles Chargers: Creed Humphrey, C Oklahoma
My colleague A.J. Schulte made this pick for the Los Angeles Chargers in his most recent 3-round 2021 NFL mock draft, and I’m in agreement with him. There are a few other avenues the Chargers could opt to pursue here, but Creed Humphrey makes a lot of sense.
The Chargers need help all across their offensive line, but with a young quarterback in Justin Herbert, the Chargers should make securing the quickest path to the quarterback their top priority. A substandard center can hinder a quarterback’s development, but by picking Humphrey, the Chargers can avoid that problem.
12) Atlanta Falcons: Hamsah Nasirildeen, S Florida State
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Falcons’ offense continues to produce, but the defense leaves much to be desired. It’s a strange discrepancy in Atlanta, considering that Dan Quinn is a defensive coach. While Matt Ryan has kept the offense humming for years on end, Quinn’s unit routinely fails to back up the point scorers.
On both the second and third levels, the Falcons could use more flexibility and playmaking ability. At 12th overall, Hamsah Nasirildeen is available to provide them with both. Listed at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Nasirildeen has the size and athleticism to play at both safety and linebacker, and his versatility could free up more specific Falcons role players to play to their strengths.
13) Miami Dolphins (via Texans): Rondale Moore, WR Purdue
The Dolphins have a respectable tandem of tall boundary receivers in DeVante Parker and Preston Williams, but they could use someone to help draw attention, spread the field, and create space for his teammates, while also generating yards on his own.
Purdue’s Rondale Moore is a great fit, in this regard. He’s on the small side, but he more than makes up for it with his dynamic athleticism, crisp route-running ability, and elite run-after-catch propensity. Tua excels at ball placement in the short-to-intermediate ranges of the field, and with Moore on the receiving end, that’s a pairing that can be very fruitful.
14) Chicago Bears: Justin Fields, QB Ohio State
The Bears again find themselves in the honeymoon phase with Mitchell Trubisky, after his three-touchdown, zero-interception season debut. How long do you think that the honeymoon phase lasts?
Eventually, Ryan Pace and the Bears need to be honest to themselves about Trubisky. Even on his best days, he’s not a quarterback who can consistently elevate an offense. Justin Fields, however, is. With his mix of athleticism and arm elasticity, Fields is a quarterback that can lead the Bears to NFC North titles.
15) Denver Broncos: Alex Leatherwood, OT Alabama
Alex Leatherwood was considered a fringe first-round prospect for the 2020 NFL Draft but opted to stay in school for his final season. Strangely, he hasn’t transferred over as a consensus top tackle prospect, but as football comes back, he’ll have a chance to remind onlookers of his upside.
Leatherwood is a massive 6-foot-6, 312-pound blindside blocker who has good mobility and power, and has also shown the ability to shift inside on occasion. For Denver, however, he’ll be best used at tackle. He could replace Garett Bolles, whose fifth-year option was declined this offseason, but if Bolles progresses and shows consistency in the weeks to come, Leatherwood can also provide security on the right side.
16) Cleveland Browns: Shaun Wade, CB Ohio State
The slot has been a leaky area for the Browns’ defense so far this season, and even with Kevin Johnson returning soon, there’s no guarantee that changes. It’s always better to play it safe at cornerback and invest more than what appears necessary. For two years straight, the Browns have spent a first or second-round pick at this position, and they may do it again in 2021.
Shaun Wade has appeal in several ways at this juncture. He has pre-existing chemistry with Denzel Ward, whom he played with at Ohio State. He also fits the slot designation very well, having the short-area explosiveness and physicality to thrive there. Matt Valdovinos compared Wade to Colts’ standout Kenny Moore II earlier in the offseason, and if that comparison holds up, Cleveland will get their money’s worth from this pick.
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