The first round of the 2021 NFL Draft will be held on Thursday, April 29, in Cleveland. Here are my top 10 picks as well as skill position players I expect to go on the first day of this year’s draft.
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Top 10 Picks
1. Jacksonville Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence (QB, Clemson)
The Jaguars will select their franchise quarterback here and not waste too much time with the decision. The consensus No. 1, Lawrence has been touted as one of the best prospects to come along since Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning. The Clemson product was terrific in college and will look to spark the Jaguars’ 21st-ranked passing offense with his accuracy, athleticism and arm strength.
2. New York Jets - Zach Wilson (QB, BYU)
Some have Wilson as the most talented in this draft, and while I don’t think he’s the first- or second-best QB in this class, it feels like the Jets need to make a splash at this spot. Wilson has durability and off-the-field issues, but none of that seems to sever the connection between him and the Jets. He’s got incredible arm strength, can throw accurate passes at different arm angles and is efficient running when his number is called. Wilson has some issues with reading through his progressions too fast, not letting plays formulate before making decisions and throwing some awful passes into double coverage. Still, he threw for just under 3,700 yards and 33 TDs at BYU last season. He’s my third-ranked QB in the draft, but his personality and arm strength play too well in the New York media market.
3. San Francisco 49ers - Justin Fields (QB, Ohio St)
The 49ers traded away three first-round picks and a third-rounder to get in the No. 3 spot, which means they’re looking to get one of the top-three QBs. There’s a lot of buzz that Mac Jones is going to San Francisco, but I’m not buying it. Yes, he’s accurate and makes good decisions, but the 49ers need a shot of adrenaline on offense, and Fields is that guy. Getting a mobile, accurate passer who can stay in the pocket is vital, and Fields checks off most boxes in a Shanahan offense.
4. Atlanta Falcons - Kyle Pitts (TE, Florida)
The fourth pick is potentially the first time we’ll see some action with a team trading up for Kyle Pitts — he’s that special. The Falcons are in a fantastic spot and have the option of taking their next franchise quarterback, draft Pitts, who’s arguably the best talent in this year’s Draft or get a bounty in draft capital and rebuild the franchise in the coming years ahead. We should see Atlanta’s front office give Matt Ryan one more year with all the talent on the offensive side and go with Pitts. Hayden Hurst isn’t working out as well as the team hoped for, and being able to pair Pitts with the tandem of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley is too good to pass up.
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5. Cincinnati Bengals - Penei Sewell (OT, Oregon)
It’ll be challenging to pass on Pitts if Atlanta elects to go QB or trade down. Still, if last year was any indication of what the Bengals need, it’s to protect their future and franchise quarterback Joe Burrow, who suffered a brutal knee injury mid-way through last season. Sewell is the consensus No. 1 at his position and a franchise left tackle. The Bengals will have two studs in Sewell and Jonah Williams protecting Burrow when he comes back.
6. Miami Dolphins - Ja’Marr Chase (WR, LSU)
The first wide receiver will go off the board and bolster up the passing game for Tua Tagovailoa next season. Chase will be a welcome addition alongside Devante Parker and newly acquired Will Fuller, who is on just a one-year deal. Chase is the ideal No. 3 in this offense and could offer upside if (or when) Parker and Fuller miss games due to injury.
7. Detroit Lions - DeVonta Smith (WR, Alabama)
Goff should be the QB for this year (at least) in the Motor City, which means the Heisman Trophy winner heads to Mowtown to help out a dismantled wide receiver room which saw both Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. walk in free agency this offseason. Smith may drop further down if the Lions buy the negative publicity about Smith’s size. If that’s the case, Smith could fall out of the top 10, which would be blasphemous for a pass-catcher who can run every route on the route tree and plays much bigger than his size.
8. Carolina Panthers - Rashawn Slater (OT, Northwestern)
The Panthers’ front office will want to protect Sam Darnold and ensure the trade they made for him this offseason pans out. The Panthers will be getting a tackle who played just under 40 games over three seasons but opted out of his senior year. Slater can play on either side of the line and can also play guard if need be.
9. Denver Broncos - Trey Lance (QB, North Dakota State)
There’s a chance the Broncos go with a defensive player here, but it’ll be hard to pass up on a quarterback. Lance provides much more upside than Mac Jones, and Lance could be the replacement Denver has been looking for since Peyton Manning retired. Lance doesn’t have to start right away with Drew Lock still in the building, which is ideal for Lance given his limited game-time experience. Passing up on the highest upside quarterback in this draft is too much to leave on the table.
10. Dallas Cowboys - Patrick Surtain II (CB, Alabama)
The Cowboys ranked dead last in almost every pass defense statistical category last season, and Surtain II is the best cornerback coming out of this year’s draft. Dallas gave up 29.6 points per game and 34 pass touchdowns to opponents last season, which tied for the third-most in the NFL. The Cowboys went out and acquired a bevy of defensive backs in free agency, but none are as good or have the upside Surtain II could bring. He can cover the entire field, and new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will be getting a pro-ready defensive back who can make an impact right away.
Other first-round skill position selections
12. Philadelphia Eagles - Jaylen Waddle (WR, Alabama)
Speed is always a need, and it doesn’t matter if you already have it. DeSean Jackson is gone and having a tandem like Waddle and Jalen Reagor will allow Travis Fulgham to be a true outside wide receiver. Jalen Hurts also played with Waddle during their time in Alabama, which could make the transition for both players that much easier.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars - Kadarius Toney (WR, Florida)
New head coach Urban Meyer will welcome this pick with open arms, electing to get young talent to add for the aforementioned Lawrence. Toney was a mismatch in college and should provide versatility in Jacksonville with experience in the slot, in the backfield as a runner and as a kick/punt returner.
27. Baltimore Ravens - Terrace Marshall Jr. (WR, LSU)
Marquise Brown is not an outside receiver, and the Ravens desperately need one to help Lamar Jackson. Marshall has decent size and never got as much recognition as he probably deserved playing behind Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson the year prior. Marshall can catch the deep ball and had a high contested catch rate at LSU.
28. New Orleans Saints - Rashod Bateman (WR, Minnesota)
The Saints will be moving on from future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees in 2021 and they’ll need to get more help on offense, especially across the middle, with Jared Cook also taking his talents out of the bayou. Bateman is a pure route runner and has a big catch radius, which might be needed with the quarterback duo of Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill under center.
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