2021 Mock Rookie Draft - Version IV
John Holler - 4/28/2021

The draft is upon and the biggest question at the moment is not whether five quarterbacks are going to go in the first round, it’s how many are going to go in a row before other positions start going.

The combination of quarterbacks, running backs and offensive linemen going high in the draft, there is the very real possibility the first cornerback, edge rusher or linebacker won’t be coming off the board until 10 picks have been made.

Here is our final pre-draft mock and where we see the chips falling – including one trade by an unlikely team, some players many don’t see going in the first round, a couple guys being picked to a draft spot instead of a specific team and teams drafting more for need than specific talent available – until a trade early on blows everything up.


1. Jacksonville – Trevor Lawrence, QB Clemson. The Jags are hooking their wagon to Lawrence and hope that he will become the first franchise QB to come through the system since Mark Brunell.


2. New York Jets – Zach Wilson, QB, BYU. The Jets got rid of Sam Darnold for pennies on the dollar and it hasn’t been a secret that they’re linked to Wilson. He has a lot of ability when he’s on the move and the Jets have made some key offseason signings to help Wilson get acclimated quickly.


3. San Francisco (from Miami via Houston) – Trey Lance, QB North Dakota State. The Niners didn’t trade up and give away their 2022 and 2023 first-round picks to take anything other than a quarterback. They’re going to get the third best QB available to them, according to the Jags and Jets. The one person I wouldn’t touch is Mac Jones – a pocket passer when a high upside of being Kirk Cousins. If you’re taking a risk, you may as well take a big cut and Lance has the highest athletic upside of the remaining quarterbacks.


4. Atlanta – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida. The Falcons keep getting tied to a quarterback here, but the reality is that Atlanta has two years of heavy lifting with Matt Ryan’s contract and two years is a lifetime in the NFL. Barring a trade for someone wanting to keep the QB run (or potentially someone moving here to take Pitts), this is the Falcons’ best option to bring the element back to their offense that was so pronounced when Tony Gonzalez was terrorizing the seam. Pitts is a generational tight end whose talent should get him drafted here – whether by the Falcons or someone trading into this spot.


5. Cincinnati – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon. This is confluence of good things, despite some anonymous scouts badmouthing him in recent days in an attempt to drop his value. The best thing going for the Bengals could be the QB feeding frenzy in front of them. There is the potential they could have their choice of any non-QB in the draft if one goes at No. 4. Kyle Pitts could be tempting, but Joe Burrow missed the end of a strong rookie season due to injury. The signing of Riley Reiff to play right tackle is a bonus, but Sewell could be a dominant guard this season and transfer to tackle in a year or two and be a bookend for a decade.


6. Miami (from Philadelphia) – Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU. The signing of Will Fuller is a step in the right direction, but if Tua Tagovailoa is ever going to be the star the Dolphins were convinced he was last year when they drafted to be the franchise QB. If he is going to be a star, he’s going to need more weapons and Chase is the most complete receiver in the 2021 draft and can hit the ground running. For those who question whether Tua can get the job done in a wide open AFC East for the first time in 20 years, having Fuller, Chase and Davante Parker ready to roll will prove whether he is the man for the next decade in South Beach. If Sewell is still available, this decision gets dicey.


7. Detroit – Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama. This could be a prime trade spot if Justin Fields and Mac Jones are both on the board, which we project them to be. However, wherever Detroit picks, their first goal has to be replacing Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. He had a spectacular 2020 season in which he dominated elite SEC competition. He has a thin frame that may get some teams to think twice this high, but the Lions need playmakers and anyone who saw Smith play last year knows elite talent when they see it. Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams are No. 2 receivers at best. They need a No. 1 – and Smith is that guy.


8. Carolina – Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern. A lot of things are possible here. Quarterback. Offensive tackle. A trade. Any one of them could happen. In our view, what this comes down to is the Panthers have Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Darnold with the chance of living up to their first-round draft status, so getting the player that can help the most immediately is the critical aspect to this (not to mention Christian McCaffrey returning from injury). Russell Okung is likely going to start his Hall of Fame clock sooner than later and he remains an unsigned free agent and Slater proved against Chase Young that he can take on the best and neutralize them.


9. Denver – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State. Say what you want about the Broncos having infinite faith in Drew Lock. John Elway and his QB failures (other than Peyton Manning being handed to him) are gone and new G.M. George Paton inherits Lock. This is an ideal scenario for a new regime making the draft calls in Denver. Lock comes in as the incumbent with the potential to make himself a career. If he fails as he did last year, Fields is waiting. Ideally, Lock plays well and becomes attractive trade bait in 2022 to amass picks and let Paton have his guy. If Lock fails when he looks over his shoulder, the long-term plan becomes the immediate plan.


10. PROJECTED TRADE: New England (from Dallas) – Mac Jones, QB, Alabama. If Dallas stays here, I’m almost certain they will take CB Patrick Surtain. But, while I don’t view Jones as anything more than a pedestrian NFL quarterback prospect, there are plenty who believe he has the type of skill set to be an elite game manager in the mode of Alex Smith or Kirk Cousins. Teams go nuts when it comes to valuing quarterbacks in the first round and this would make it five gone in the first 10 picks. Bill Belichick learned the hard way how life was like without Tom Brady and, while he’s never had a history of giving up draft capital to move up, but these are strange days indeed that Mr. Bill isn’t accustomed to.


11. New York Giants – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State. It’s extremely rare that you get this deep into the draft without a defensive player being taken. It’s dealer’s choice for the Giants. Whenever that happens, you take the most talented player regardless of position and plug him in to be something special. Patrick Surtain opposite James Bradberry could be epic. They have their choice of edge rushers. But, if they don’t trade out of this spot, Parsons makes the most sense. He’s more than NFL-ready and has Pro Bowl potential for the next decade. Pull the trigger, boys and start the rush for defensive players to start working their way in.


12. Philadelphia (from Miami via San Francisco) – Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama. There is a chance Waddle could be this year’s Henry Ruggs and a team in the top 10 jumps on him because of his Tyreek Hill-like skill set that is always sought-after in the NFL. The Eagles systematically rid themselves of Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson and Marquise Goodwin and never replaced them with outside free agents. They need to hit big with this pick in a wide open division they’re looking up at and Waddle is the biggest dice roll on greatness available at this spot after swinging and missing on Jalen Reagor last year.


13. Los Angeles Chargers – Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech. The only returning offensive lineman from last season is the oft-injured Bryan Bulaga. The Chargers added interior linemen in free agency, but haven’t addressed left tackle. While I think this may be a bit of reach for Darrisaw – they would love a scenario where Rashawn Slater falls here, but the Chargers should hopefully learn the less Joe Burrow suffered last season – if you can’t protect your QB, he will get hurt. The Chargers may believe Trey Pipkins can get the job done, but I’m not sold.


14. Minnesota – Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT/G, USC. If there is a team that should be a near-guarantee to drop back in the first round, it’s Minnesota. We’re still in the same position where the best edge rusher and cornerback are still on the board, which could have Mike Zimmer climbing the walls. Minnesota invested heavily in free agency on the defensive side of the ball, signing Patrick Peterson, Dalvin Tomlinson, Nick Vigil and Xavier Rhodes, while bringing back Mackensie Alexander and Stephen Weatherly. G.M. Rick Spielman loves stockpiling picks (he made 15 last year) and, without a second round pick, trading back seems likely, but Vera-Tucker is the best O-lineman on the board and, while he isn’t a left tackle, he’s a talent player who fills a need.

15. PROJECTED TRADE: Dallas (from New England) – Patrick Surtain, CB, Alabama. This would be a giddy fever dream for Dallas if this scenario plays out. If the Cowboys made their pick at No. 10, it would be Surtain. The fact the teams in between where they traded from to where they are now had more pressing needs that could be accomplished without touching the cornerback position would have Jerry Jones falling off his chair. It’s hard to fathom Surtain makes it this long, but the chips right in front of Dallas fall the way they do because of talent and need – making Surtain the steal of the top half of the first round.


16. Arizona – Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina. This was a need area before the Cardinals exchanged Patrick Peterson for Malcolm Butler in free agency. They’re no better than they were at the end of the season, which wasn’t good. Robert Alford has been hurt each of the last two years and, even if he stays healthy, Horn has the skill to beat him out for a starting spot and force Butler and Alford to fight it out. With the quarterback situation solid throughout the NFC West, having a pair of cover corners is essential and the Cardinals get that with Horn.


17. Las Vegas – Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech. When you’re in the same division as Patrick Mahomes, you need to have your defense on point and the Raiders have given the Chiefs more trouble than anyone recently. The team addressed defensive line in free agency. They take chances on athletes and Farley is the best cornerback in the draft – just ask him. He’s coming off surgery that have some medical red flags, but the Raiders historically draft athletes and few of them are more instinctive and impressive than Farley.


18. Miami – Jaelen Phillips, DE, Miami. I have Kwity Paye from Michigan as my top edge rusher – it’s incredible this is the first edge rusher off the board. Phillips has a history of injuries that would scare some teams, but he is an ideal edge rusher in the way Shaq Lawson was used as a standup edge rusher. I have my reservations about Phillips’ long-term health, but it would be a good draft story if Phillips stays in South Beach and live up to the promise he brought in the college game. A dice roll worth taking.


19. Washington – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB Notre Dame. Washington has an elite defense – even if most casual fans didn’t realize it because the NFC East was almost unwatchable last season. The WFT lost Kevin-Pierre Lewis in free agency and JOK would be an immediate upgrade. This is a defense that quietly ascended last year. With a solid draft, Washington will have a defense that can keep them in a lot of games. However, if one of the top five QBs last at or beyond the 10th pick, don’t be stunned to see them trade up.


20. Chicago – Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan. The Bears have needs on the O-line, definitely at quarterback and at wide receiver if Allen Robinson is one-and-off. But, they have the 2021 plan in place and barring a big move trading up, they’re likely stuck here. At that point, you take the player who remains on your board and fill in the gaps in the later rounds. Paye alongside Khalil Mack could make the glue-and-prayer offense of the Bears viable if they don’t make mistakes. If the Bears are to rise above .500 (everybody will barring ties) they need to stack defense as much as possible.


21. Indianapolis – Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami. For my money, Rousseau could make the argument that he should be the first edge rusher off the board. But, a sub-par Pro Day has him as the trendy pick for stock dropping – perhaps even out of the first round. The Colts could reach for an offensive lineman, but Rousseau is going to be a long-term answer on the defense. He showed flashes of dominance in college and, while he may never be a Pro Bowler, but he could play a critical role in the Colts defense starting immediately.


22. Tennessee – Greg Newsome, CB, Northwestern. This should come down to one of two position picks – wide receiver or cornerback. The Titans are without Corey Davis, Adam Humphries and Jonnu Smith – all who played significant roles in the pass offense. They signed Josh Reynolds, but that doesn’t make up for the loss in production. But, they let trade deadline acquisition Desmond King leave via free agency and starters Malcolm Butler and Adoree Jackson were both cut. Janoris Jenkins and Cleveland backup Kevin Johnson don’t come close to making up that void. Newsome is an elite corner who can stick tight to a receiver and likely won’t take long to equal or surpass Jenkins as the No. 1 guy.


23. New York Jets (from Seattle) – Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson. This is more of a pick based on potential for an elite skill set than a firm belief the Jets will go this way. The draft has a long history of undervaluing running backs so this goes way against the grain. But, Etienne is capable of being a three-down back for a team that had Jurassic Frank Gore as its primary back most of last season. With a rookie QB driving the car, the Jets need a ground game that can keep defenses honest. Etienne can accomplish that particular task, in my view, better than anyone else in the draft.


24. Pittsburgh – Najee Harris, RB, Alabama. Whether the Jets take Etienne or not, I see Harris going to the Steelers. Pittsburgh has stunk out loud on the ground and made no effort to bring James Conner back. The team has invested middle-round picks on running back almost every year and have never adequately replaced Le’Veon Bell. Harris is a power back (6-2, 230) that can be a prototype. As Big Ben likely makes his final curtain call, an infusion of a back who isn’t a role player could bring back some of the offensive magic that hasn’t been seen consistently since Bell was the focus of the offense.

25. Jacksonville (from L.A. Rams) – Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU. This is the point in the draft where you start picking players and not necessarily teams. Moehrig is hands down the best safety in the draft and teams always have a need for someone who can aggressively patrol the deep middle of the secondary and break up plays when they lock on the ball. That is Moehrig’s calling card. For a defense that gave up 34 passing TDs last year without big-play pop to make up for it, this is a need position that is a gift. Trading out is a possibility, but it may be to a team looking for the best safety in this year’s draft.

26. Cleveland – Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky. The Browns have an impressive defense, but is missing one key ingredient – a dominant run stuff for the middle of the defense. The Browns have the chance to be the big dog in a division they were No. 3 or 4 for so many years. Davis could give them a dynamic game-changer that keeps the Browns playoff contenders for the near future. They have a lot of the necessary pieces in place, but Davis could be one that takes them to the next level defensively.

27. Baltimore – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota. There are other receivers who have a higher draft grade than Bateman, but, if you look at his 2019 tape, he was dominant against some of the Big Ten’s elite corners. A polished route-runner who is fearless over the middle and gets separation, he is the big complement to Hollywood Brown that has been missing in the Ravens pass offense. They miss more than they hit on wide receivers early in the draft, but Bateman is an underrated prospect who has enormous upside for a player who will likely see a lot of single coverage.


28. New Orleans – Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama. This is a pick that may seem like a bit of a reach because most scouts see Barmore as a high second-round talent, not necessarily here. But, the Saints cut nosetackle Malcolm Brown and let Sheldon Rankins leave in free agency. There is a clear need here for a big body in the middle that can require double-teams and still produce. Wide receiver and cornerback are viable options


29. Green Bay – Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida. The Packers need at wide receiver behind Davante Adams – one that wasn’t made any easier to swallow when they didn’t take one in any of their nine draft picks last season and used their first-rounder on QB Jordan Love, who, if everything works, will never play a down during the length of his rookie contract. A four-year college player, Toney has a polished game that won’t need a lot of refining. He has to prove he can beat press coverage, but he can quickly develop into a No. 2 option that takes some heat away from Adams.


30. Buffalo – Azeez Ojulari, LB, Georgia. If Travis Etienne is still on the board with this pick, it will be tempting. But, despite bringing Matt Milano back, there is razor thin at the position. Ojulari has a lot of athleticism and can be solid in coverage, run support and as a blitzer. He has run hot and cold at Georgia, but, with the right coaching, could be a star on the horizon. The Bills are a legitimate Super Bowl contender and Ojulari could be a key defensive piece to getting them over the top.


31. Baltimore (from Kansas City) – Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State. The Ravens come back in the first round to do what they do – fill needs. They took a wide receiver at No. 27 because the two teams behind them both had wide receiver as a pressing need and they didn’t want Bateman to get away. Now they take a tackle to replace Orlando Brown, who was traded to the Chiefs for this pick. For the Ravens offense to run hot as it should, strong offensive line play is necessary. Jenkins helps fill the void by likely moving Ronnie Stanley to left tackle and taking over the right side position.

32. Tampa Bay – Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss. Moore is a player on the cusp of the first round that finds himself in a unique position. The Buccaneers are bringing back all 22 of their starters after re-signing 17 of their own players in the offseason and only losing four backups in free agency. The team franchised Chris Godwin and could well lose him after this season – along with a lot of others. Mike Evans is a stud and Moore may not have a huge first season, but could take on a bigger role than it would appear as he becomes Tom Brady’s newest tool in the shed.



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