The first round of the 2021 NFL Draft will be held on Thursday, April 29. Below, I give my predictions for the first 10 picks.
1. Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville Jaguars)
The Jaguars get their franchise QB, a player who showed progressive growth every year in his three seasons at Clemson. He’d be a favorite to perform well in almost any situation but should thrive in the Jags’ Darrell Bevell-led offense, a system that allowed Matthew Stafford to attempt the eighth-most deep balls last season. Think of a quicker version of Josh Allen who will also need to hone in his immense arm strength into the quicker, precision passing of the pro game. Even if he has growing pains, his athleticism will likely make him an impact fantasy starter from day one.
2. Zach Wilson (New York Jets)
Wilson is going to the Jets, who are in desperate need of a restart after years of floundering with poor HC-QB combos. A natural stud in the passing game, Wilson’s last season at BYU produced gaudy stats, including a 73% completion percentage — which was a full eight percentage point improvement over his average from his first two seasons. He did have great protection in college and hasn’t played against as much elite competition as some of the other top QBs. His ceiling is massive, but his adjustment to the NFL has the potential to be rocky. It is the Jets after all.
3. Mac Jones (San Francisco 49ers)
I think Kyle Shanahan covets Jones. Jones had a monster season at Alabama in 2020 but undoubtedly benefited from Alabama having one of the best groups of talent ever at wide receiver. San Francisco possesses some of the best after-the-catch receivers in the league themselves, and Shanahan has always put a premium on good pocket distributors, relying on his play-calling ability to overcome arm-talent issues with players like Matt Ryan and Kirk Cousins. Jones fits the Shanny mold, and I think he remains their ultimate target.
4. Kyle Pitts (Atlanta Falcons)
Atlanta could be hoping to catch the now Drew Brees-less Saints off guard and challenge for the division title in 2021. At 6-foot-6, 240 pounds and capable of a sub-4.5 40 time, Pitts is uber-talented and likely could be viewed as something of a Julio Jones replacement, despite playing TE. Don’t forget, Matt Ryan and Tony Gonzalez combined for 27 TD between 2009 and 2012, and I’m sure the QB wouldn’t mind trying to replicate this connection in his later years. Teams will try to trade up for Justin Fields here, but I’d guess the price will be too high. I think Atlanta will be happy to stay put and grab the most elite and versatile pass catcher in the draft.
5. Penei Sewell (Cincinnati Bengals)
The Bengals have been linked to Joe Burrow’s former teammate Ja’Marr Chase, but with Burrow coming off major knee surgery, they will feel the pressure here to bolster their offensive line. Cincinnati also shored up WR last season, using a second-round pick on Tee Higgins, and Sewell has remained as the clear-cut number one OL in this draft since January. Perhaps they head fake everyone and go Chase or Rashawn Slater — the second-rated OL — but Sewell seems like the easy fit.
6. Justin Fields (Chicago Bears from Miami Dolphins)
This is where things could start to pick up. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported last week that the Dolphins are taking offers to trade out of the sixth spot. With Pitts likely going to Atlanta and the Dolphins having signed Will Fuller in the offseason, Miami bypassing a receiver to add more draft capital makes a ton of sense. The Bears have been hyper-focused on getting a true franchise QB all offseason (they reportedly offered three first-round picks for Russell Wilson), and Fields carries less “Trubisky-like” question marks than Trey Lance does. If San Francisco passes on Fields, look for Chicago to go all out to grab him.
7. Ja’Marr Chase (Detroit Lions)
With the departure of Matthew Stafford, Detroit seems likely to grab a shiny new toy at the draft to quell its fanbase. Chase is big, fast and barely 21 years old. He put up a monster season his sophomore year in college before opting out in 2020, but he was regularly beating older cornerbacks at just 19. Detroit has revamped their receiver core a bit with Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman, but neither has been a reliable No. 1 receiver for most of their careers; although, both could be considered good mentors for Chase. He feels like the best overall WR prospect in the draft and should offer tons of appeal to Detroit here.
8. Rashawn Slater (Carolina Panthers)
While anything is possible, I think the Panthers have settled on Sam Darnold as their starter for next season, which means they likely won’t be going QB here. They could trade back, but if Slater is still on the board, it seems very probable the Panthers snatch up the consensus No. 2 OL and get some immediate help for Darnold. Slater is versatile and showed up well against tough competition in college, with some even suggesting he should be the first OL off the board in this draft.
9. Trey Lance (New England Patriots from Denver Broncos)
There have been rumors of a Teddy Bridgewater trade to Denver and no real links to any of the top four QBs. History tells us that one or more of the QBs will fall further than expected, and Denver is already well-stocked with young talent at WR. The cost to move up here from 15 won’t be super high, and we know from the Patriots’ offseason that they have no desire to go through a slow rebuild. Bringing the raw Lance in to work with (or behind) a former MVP in Cam Newton would seem like a good dynamic. Look for the Patriots to be interested if any of the top five QBs are available at nine.
10. Patrick Surtain II (Dallas Cowboys)
The Cowboys’ highest-graded CB last season (via PFF) was Trevon Diggs at 58. They’ve now lost top corners in Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie each of the past two offseasons and desperately need an influx of talent in their secondary. After unexpectedly going offense last season in round one — and seeing their team rank fifth-to-last in points allowed in 2020 — the Cowboys seem likely to take one of the top-rated corners here. The big-bodied Surtain looked great when tested by high-level competition at Alabama last season and has been linked to Dallas by tons of news outlets already.
Jaylen Waddle to Philadelphia Eagles at No. 12
DeVonta Smith to Miami Dolphins at No. 18
Travis Etienne to New York Jets at No. 23 or Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 24
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