With just three days remaining until the 2021 NFL Draft, many questions remain regarding the top of the draft board, including which quarterback the San Francisco 49ers are favoring with pick No. 3.
Despite the above report by Ian Rapoport late Sunday night, I still wonder if Justin Fields is in the mix for San Francisco. After all, any report this close to the draft may be a smokescreen.
The 49ers’ selection, along with the Falcons and Bengals after them, will create a domino effect for the rest of the draft.
I give my answer to all three of those picks and more here in my first-round mock with some fun possible Round 2 and 3 fits mentioned at the end.
Full disclosure, it’s hard, or nearly futile, to predict some of the trades that annually happen in the back half of the first round, so the only trades I mulled over for this first-round mock are move-ups for a quarterback, in which I have one.
Without further ado, my lone mock draft of the offseason this year. Enjoy.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
There should be no qualms here. Lawrence is a generational prospect, joining Peyton Manning (1998) and Andrew Luck (2012) in their own category of No. 1 overall picks with the highest of expectations over the last 20 to 25 years.
2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
It seems as if the Jets have been set on Wilson for a long time now. The kid from BYU has the ability to make difficult throws off-platform at a near Aaron Rodgers level. The quarterback position in the NFL is about much more than that, but still, it’s hard to witness Wilson’s arm talent and not become smitten with his play.
3. San Francisco 49ers: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Most of the media (because of their sources), and many former and current NFL personnel members believe the 49ers are eyeing Mac Jones here, but I don’t see it. At least not at pick No. 3. In giving up two future first-round draft picks to move up, I believe the 49ers are eying a more talented QB.
To me, Trey Lance best fits the Kyle Shanahan offense. He’s lauded as a super-smart prospect with heavy experience in pre-snap recognition and full-field progressions in a run-centric offense. He’s also incredibly athletic, with a big arm, and is capable of executing play-action/bootleg concepts under the Shanahan scheme, which was at its peak under John Elway and Mike Shanahan in Denver in the mid-to-late 1990s.
That’s why Lance was my initial pick here for San Francisco a few weeks ago, and after debating back and forth between Lance (who is raw), and the slightly-more-talented Justin Fields (who is also a more accurate thrower), I’ve decided to trust my gut and go back to Lance, despite him having some issues with passing accuracy, which is an uber-important characteristic for a quarterback leading a Shanahan offense.
Drafting Lance to sit behind Jimmy Garoppolo in 2021 would elicit comparisons to the quarterback room of the 2017 Chiefs (Alex Smith, Patrick Mahomes) and the 2011-2012 49ers (Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick). The veteran leads a talented team for a season or so before the young, more athletic quarterback of the future takes over.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
If the Falcons elect not to draft a QB here — I think Trey Lance is an excellent fit under Atlanta’s new regime but he’s unavailable in this scenario — this becomes an obvious trade spot for a team like the Broncos to move up from spot No. 9.
But if Atlanta stays put, they have their pick of any top non-QB prospect of their choosing. The Titans led the league in 12 personnel (two tight ends) usage last season under offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, who is now the Falcons head coach.
10 years after the Falcons moved up to take Julio Jones with pick No. 6, the team now stays put to draft another rare athletic pass-catching talent in tight end Kyle Pitts, who’s receiver-like ability would pair nicely with Jones, Calvin Ridley and traditional tight end Hayden Hurst.
Of course, there’s the possibility that the Falcons deal Jones for cap relief later this summer, which makes even more sense that they’d draft Pitts here.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
With Pitts off the board, the Bengals decision will basically come down to one of the top two tackles or wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who played with Joe Burrow at LSU.
As enticing as it is to pair Chase with Burrow once more, the Bengals have to prioritize their franchise quarterback, who was pressured and sacked a ton last season in 10 games before tearing his ACL.
The Bengals shouldn’t overthink this.
6. Miami Dolphins: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
Some are wondering if the Dolphins are interested in a tackle such as Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater, but Ja’Marr Chase would give the Dolphins a bonafide No. 1 receiver talent for Tua Tagovailoa. Miami traded back to No. 12 only to immediately trade back up to No. 6, most likely to land a top-tier pass catcher.
7. New England Patriots (TRADE with Lions): Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
It’s time to get wild.
For the Lions to trade back to No. 15, potentially bypassing their chance to pick a blue-chip player at No. 7, it will have to be worth it. The Patriots would likely need to give up this year’s first-round pick and perhaps next year’s first to move up. Detroit is going for a full rebuild under new head coach Dan Campbell, so accumulating another first-round pick next season would help that process.
Although I think Lance is a better pure fit for New England (along with San Francisco and Atlanta), Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels are master adaptors who could easily transform their offense around a talented prospect such as Justin Fields, if the board were to shake up that way with Lance going No. 3 to San Francisco.
Fields is an accurate thrower with a talented arm who also possesses immense physical and mental toughness (see: Ohio State’s CFP semifinal win over Clemson in January). He’s also 6-foot-3, 228 pounds and ran an unofficial 4.44 40-yard dash at Ohio State’s pro day.
In an interview with the media recently, Bill Belichick said this about the possibility of trading up:
“I would say normally something will happen and there could very well be a player there that either you don’t expect to be there or maybe he is a couple spots — maybe at 12, 13 — he’s still on the board and you really thought that he’d be gone in the top six, seven picks,” Belichick said. “And then the question comes: Do move up and try to get that player that’s fallen a little bit?”
If Fields falls this far, I think the Patriots would make the call to trade up.
8. Carolina Panthers: Rashawn Slater, OT/G, Northwestern
The Panthers could also trade back with a QB-needy team, or select a top-tier defensive player such as Patrick Surtain II or Micah Parsons, but Rashawn Slater is a slam-dunk pick here as a protector for new quarterback Sam Darnold.
If you watch any tape of Slater from college, let it be this film against Chase Young, who was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in Washington last season.
Slater could end up being one of the two or three best players from this entire draft.
9. Denver Broncos: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
The Broncos could opt to trade (or wait out his release) for Teddy Bridgewater to push Drew Lock at the quarterback position, but why not go with a smart distributor at QB here?
Denver has a ton of offensive weapons with wide receivers Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, tight end Noah Fant and running back Melvin Gordon. Jones would have to get used to the pro game after carving up college defenses with a slate of first-round talent at wide receiver, but pairing him with an arsenal of pass catchers would be a nice way of getting production out of Jones early. Denver can’t afford to let this roster go forward with a question mark at quarterback. Jones would be the ideal distributor-type at the position for all of Denver’s offensive talent.
10. Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
For my money, Patrick Surtain II is the safest pick in the draft. The 6-foot-2, press-man cornerback should thrive in any scheme, but will best work in a man-heavy defense (like New England).
Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is a Cover-3 guy from his time as the defensive coordinator of the Seahawks during the Legion-of-Boom era, and Surtain can certainly thrive in that system as well. But Dallas would be wise to select him and let him take away opponents’ No. 1 pass catcher in man coverage.
11. New York Giants: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Jaylen Waddle is my favorite receiver in the draft. He possess more Tyreek Hill-ability than his former Alabama teammate Henry Ruggs, who went in the top half of the first round to Las Vegas in last year’s draft.
This splashy pick doesn’t really fit into GM Dave Gettleman’s past, but he knows the Giants need to upgrade their offense around Daniel Jones. This is the way.
12. Philadelphia Eagles: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
It seems as if people are either doubting DeVonta Smith outright or comparing him to Hall-of-Fame receiver Marvin Harrison.
There’s a middle ground at play. I think Smith will be closer to Harrison than an outright bust, but his weight (166 pounds) is not something to just gloss over.
Luckily, Smith is an A+ route runner with silky smooth skills and pass-catching ability.
The Eagles could also use a defensive player like Parsons or Jaycee Horn here, but they are in dire need of a receiver for quarterback Jalen Hurts. I’m almost a little surprised they traded back from No. 6, but in this scenario, they get one of the talented young receivers.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Christian Darrishaw, OT, Virginia Tech
Much like Joe Burrow’s situation in Cincinnati, fellow 2020 draft classmate Justin Herbert needs an improved offensive line in Los Angeles, too.
Protecting Herbert, who already has a pretty good set of weapons on offense, should be priority No. 1. They go with one of the highest-rated offensive lineman in the draft here.
14. Minnesota Vikings: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT/G, USC
The Vikings could use some help along the offensive line, and Vera-Tucker is one of the top prospects up front. He’s versatile, and could play either guard or tackle in the pros.
Here’s what NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, a former pro scout, had to say of the USC offensive lineman:
“I also think along the offensive line, man, I mentioned his name a little bit, but Vera-Tucker, he’s one of my favorite players in the whole draft. He can play darned near anywhere,” Jeremiah said on his pre-draft conference call with the media. “I think he’s going to be an All-Pro guard. He can hold up at tackle if you wanted him to. But you want to get better along that offensive line, I think he’s just one of the cleanest, safest picks in the whole draft.”
15. Detroit Lions (TRADE with Patriots): Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
The Lions move back and still get one of the three or four best non-QB prospects in the draft. Micah Parsons is a freak at the linebacker position. He’ll add range, speed and athleticism to a defense that needs it after failing to replicate a Patriots-style defense under Matt Patricia.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
Horn is a solid, 6-foot-1 press man coverage specialist that would fit right in with longtime Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson now in Minnesota.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Miami
One of my favorite players in the draft, Kwity Paye can fit in any scheme, whether it be a 4-3-based defense, or one utilizing 3-4 principles.
The Raiders have already invested in the EDGE position with the signing of pass-rush extraordinaire Yannick Ngakoue, but a complete player like Paye up front would come a long way in helping build up their defense.
18. Miami Dolphins: Zaven Collins, LB/EDGE, Tulsa
Brian Flores goes Belichick-ian here to select the bulking Collins, a versatile linebacker prospect with size (6-5, 260 pounds) a la Dont’a Hightower. This is also the first spot where Alabama running back Najee Harris may come off the board.
19. Washington Football Team: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
Washington opts to build up the trenches along the offensive line with an excellent offensive tackle prospect who packs power.
20. Chicago Bears: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
The Bears stay close to home by adding a cornerback from nearby Northwestern. Chicago did sign Desmond Trufant this offseason, but I still think drafting the young Newsome will fully help ease the loss of Kyle Fuller.
21. Indianapolis Colts: Jaelen Phillips, EDGE, Miami
He’s had a rough injury past, but he’s still one of the top EDGE defenders in this class, capable of fitting right into a 4-3 scheme and producing. Indianapolis is a good fit for him.
22. Tennessee Titans: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
His recent back surgery may cause him to fall down draft boards. The Titans stop the landslide here. They have a big need at cornerback.
23. New York Jets: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
They are not at all the same player, but the sheer size of Gregory Rousseau (6-foot-7, 265 pounds) makes me think new Jets head coach Robert Saleh (recently the 49ers’ defensive coordinator) may want a towering defensive lineman up front, like he had in DeForest Buckner in San Francisco.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
Harris could go as high as No. 18 to running back-needy Miami, but I have him sliding to Pittsburgh here. Harris is a bruising, 6-foot-2, 230-pound back who possesses ridiculous speed, burst and athleticism for his size. He seems like the perfect 20-carries-a-game guy for the Steelers.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars: Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
At this point, the Jaguars should just be looking to add talent, but if that talent becomes a shifty offensive weapon for Trevor Lawrence, then that’s even better. Toney would fit nicely here with Urban Meyer’s bunch.
26. Cleveland Browns: Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky
Davis isn’t being talked about enough. He’s an incredible athlete with speed and range that is often needed in a marquee linebacker in today’s game (think: Devin White in Tampa Bay). If the Browns are to compete with an AFC powerhouse like the Chiefs, adding Davis to help patrol the middle of the field on defense makes a lot of sense.
27. Baltimore Ravens: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
The Ravens can no longer sit idle and ignore the wide receiver position. Marquise “Hollywood” Brown has big-play potential, but he can’t do much when he’s the only receiver being keyed on by opposing defenses.
Baltimore needs a legit possession receiver on the outside. Bateman very well could be the fourth-best receiver in this draft class. He’s an ideal X-receiver.
28. New Orleans Saints: Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
This draft is loaded with slot receivers. And we’re not talking about quick-but-not-fast, route technicians like Wes Welker or Cole Beasley.
We’re talking about slot receivers that are almost of the Tyreek Hill mold. Blazing-fast playmakers who can take the top off a defense, while also making plays underneath, or on schemed plays (reverse, screens, etc.).
The Saints are in need of wide receiver help, and above all, explosiveness on offense as they begin the post-Drew Brees era.
Rondale Moore is small (5-foot-7, 181 pounds) but compact. He’s tough and has strength that compliments his 4.29 speed.
Moore also thrives in underneath option routes and unique setups in which he could come out of the backfield.
Sean Payton and the Saints would get a lot out of this explosive playmaker.
29. Green Bay Packers: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB/SS, Notre Dame
The Packers could (and should) snag a receiver by Round 2 at the latest, but the athletic Owusu-Koramoah as a strong safety-linebacker hybrid may be too much to pass up here.
Many teams are now rolling with three-safety packages in critical situations, and the Notre Dame defender can really be labeled as either a box safety or a pure linebacker in those looks. The versatility and athleticism in the middle of the field is a need for the Packers here.
30. Buffalo Bills: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
I like the possibility of North Carolina’s Javonte Williams here for Buffalo, but in this scenario Travis Etienne is still available, so the Bills grab him.
Buffalo badly needs a running back, and the do-it-all back from Clemson would be a nice fit.
31. Baltimore Ravens: Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State
Instead of rolling with one of the more raw tackle prospects that could fill up the board from late Round 1 to Round 3, the Chiefs opted to trade out of this spot to get the more proven Orlando Brown Jr. from the Ravens to play left tackle.
With another late first-round pick handy, Baltimore adds to the EDGE position with Matt Judon now in New England. Jayson Oweh has the potential to be one of the best defensive players in this class.
He projects as both a stand-up and on-the-line rusher in the Ravens’ scheme.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss
With all 22 starters returning from their Super Bowl 55-winning team, the Buccaneers can do just about anything here. Many are predicting that the defending Super Bowl champions will go with Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore as an eventual replacement for Ndamukong Suh, but I think they may try to fill Antonio Brown’s spot here.
Yes, Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson should receive more playing time this year, as both have potential and a rapport with Tom Brady, but the possibility of adding an explosive slot playmaker like Elijah Moore also makes a lot of sense for Tampa.
Moore’s NFL.com draft profile even lists Antonio Brown as his pro comparison.
Here are 10 fun fits for Day 2 (Rounds 2 and 3) on Friday.
33. Jacksonville Jaguars: Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State
36. Miami Dolphins: Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina
37. Philadelphia Eagles: Landon Dickerson, C/OG, Alabama
42. New York Giants: Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
44. Dallas Cowboys: Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
52. Chicago Bears: Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M
55. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kyle Trask, QB, Florida
67. Houston Texans: Davis Mills, QB, Stanford
90. Minnesota Vikings: Jamie Newman, QB, Wake Forest/Georgia
96. New England Patriots: Anthony Schwartz, WR, Auburn (I couldn’t resist, plus he’s the fastest player in this draft. He has olympic speed.)