The following is a culmination of the Hub’s work on the 2021 NFL Draft. Below is a What-Should-Happen Mock Draft of Thursday’s first round that features no trades, followed by a diagnosis of notable prospects who were left out of the first round and big boards of players at almost every position.
Here we go.
No. 1, Jacksonville Jaguars: QB, Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Lawrence will have the chance to put the Jaguars legitimately on the map for the first time in a while, and he’s not walking into a tire-fire situation that most teams selecting No. 1 overall are.
The former Clemson star with have good weapons and smart coaching around him in Year 1. Urban Meyer as a play-caller should make Jacksonville an at-least decent team next season, assuming he doesn’t lose the locker room as a rookie head coach who’s never led at the NFL level.
Lawrence is about as sure of a thing as one can get. His only caveat is whether he can live up to it.
No. 2, New York Jets: QB, Justin Fields, Ohio State
As discussed on Monday, the slide Fields is likely to endure on Thursday night is completely irresponsible. He should be the Jets’ pick here.
Fields performed beautifully at one of the highest levels out of anyone in this draft. While Zach Wilson’s traits are just as tantalizing, Fields is just a better guarantee given his experience against good competition. His dual-threat ability and accuracy is supreme to Wilson’s, and his arm isn’t much worse. Additionally, Fields’ durability and size at the next level is of zero concern, whereas Wilson’s tall but slight frame – paired with his scrambling – can make one a tad worried.
Fields won’t be the pick here, and who knows where he will end up, but regardless, the Jets come out of this pick better off than they were in 2018 when they drafted Sam Darnold. For all of Wilson’s cons, his potential is sky high. Whether that translates or not is something New York probably shouldn’t be betting on, though.
No. 3, San Francisco 49ers: QB, Trey Lance, North Dakota State
Whether Fields is here or not on Thursday night, Lance should be San Francisco’s pick at No. 3.
Rumors have varied about the 49ers’ willingness to keep Jimmy Garoppolo as next year’s starter. After the trade, it seemed like he’d be around at least another year – if not two. But recent reports indicate that Garoppolo could be moved by the end of the draft, and that whoever this pick is for the 49ers will be the team’s starter in the fall.
If the intention is to keep Garoppolo, Lance is the perfect pick. He’s the exception to the rule of starting your first-round quarterback in year one, as his sky-high potential will follow him learning how to succeed against upper-level talent and adapting to high passing volume schemes. San Francisco can keep Garoppolo under center, still be remotely competitive and not put themselves in financial hell to get out of his contract while Lance develops.
Due to that, Lance is probably the right pick even if Fields is still here, because Fields would be wasted by being benched.
Lance would bring back memories of the Robert Griffin III-Kyle Shanahan duo back in Washington. Even though Shanahan tends to like lower ceiling, stable QBs, Lance is too good of a prospect to pass up here. If the 49ers are patient, he’ll eventually be the upgrade they’re looking for over Garoppolo.
No. 4, Atlanta Falcons: TE, Kyle Pitts, Florida
Atlanta should trade down. While Pitts is potentially a generational talent, they don’t truly need him in an offense that is already pretty loaded with weapons – and will have competent coaching for the first time in years. Assuming Matt Ryan isn’t totally washed, the Falcons offense just needs to stay healthy in 2021 to be successful.
But if Atlanta can’t trade down to land an impact defender (literally any type – cornerback, edge, linebacker… it doesn’t matter), Pitts has to be the pick. There’s no one worth reaching for with him on the board. While the Falcons committed to Hayden Hurst last offseason at the tight end position, Pitts can easily assume the No. 3 wide receiver role ahead of Russell Gage, and create a titanic arsenal featuring Julio Jones (who should not be traded unless a first round pick and more is the offer) and Calvin Ridley.
Quarterback has been a popular pick for Atlanta here throughout the offseason, but the team just restructured Matt Ryan’s contract to make his dead cap unrecoverable after next season. That would mean whichever quarterback Atlanta takes would be sitting not for just next season, but the year after as well. The Falcons would be better off taking Pitts, making the best of Ryan for the next two years and resetting at the position heading into the 2023 Draft.
No. 5, Cincinnati Bengals: WR, DeVonta Smith, Alabama
Like Atlanta, the Bengals should probably consider trading down here.
As written about on Wednesday, Cincinnati is in better shape on its offensive line than given credit for. Help is needed inside, but it’s unjustifiable to take either Alijah Vera-Tucker or Rashawn Slater, both of whom can play guard, over Penei Sewell here.
With the offensive line out of consideration, the focus moves to wide receiver. While the Bengals are also sneakily taken care of there, they still lack a reliable No. 1 option, as Tee Higgins might be suited best as a No. 2 on the outside.
Smith is that primary guy. Ranked No. 1 on the Hub’s wide receiver board, the Heisman Trophy winner simply knows how to get open. He’s a silky smooth route runner who uses his length to reach out and grab any ball. His footwork gets all the hype, but Smith also uses his speed and long legs to simply run past defensive backs and never look back. He also has the surest hands in the draft – a nice bonus considering how open he consistently is.
The biggest worry with Smith is a legit one: At 166 pounds and 6’1, he’s a pure bean-pole.
It’s odd to see that he weighed in so low. Throughout the college football season, Smith looked thin and lengthy, but didn’t play like it. He was able to stave off defenders and was never roughed up. Smith plays bigger than his weight, but he’s also going to be dealing with bigger, more mature defenders who could bring a heftier pop in the NFL.
Smith’s weight is less of a concern than JaMarr Chase’s time off. While Chase was fantastic at LSU, he did benefit from Joe Burrow and Justin Jefferson being on his team. Those two just put up some of the best rookie seasons we’ve ever seen. Is a third outbreak really coming from that same LSU roster? That seems improbable. Chase is not a bad prospect, but Smith’s ability to get open is just that special.
No. 6, Miami Dolphins: OT, Penei Sewell, Oregon
The Dolphins are ecstatic to land Sewell here, who caps off the building of their offensive line to protect Tua Tagovailoa.
Sewell was pegged as a generational talent out of high school, and while he’s still quite good, that label has worn its course. He’s still the best offensive lineman in this class, and will be an immediate plug and play stalwart for the Dolphins for years to come.
No. 7, Detroit Lions: WR, JaMarr Chase, LSU
Detroit could go a couple of different places here, including trading down, but its No. 1 priority this season should be to find out whether Jared Goff is a viable starting quarterback or not.
That answer is seemingly obvious, but the Lions new front office hails from Los Angeles, where Goff was originally drafted. They might have their own plans for Goff, and believe in him more than the Rams had time for given their win-now roster.
Detroit had an active offseason at wide receiver – they lost Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. while replacing them with Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman, which isn’t exactly the two-for-two swap you want. But Chase can improve their receiving core instantly, and can likely emerge as a No. 1 option immediately with his speed and physicality on the line. He’s strong and quite large for his 6’1 frame, and should become Goff’s most trusted weapon this season.
No. 8, Carolina Panthers: CB, Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
This might seem high, but the Panthers don’t have too many holes on the defensive side of the ball. Surtain II is the best cornerback in the draft, and with AJ Bouye suspended for six games to begin the season, Carolina will need a sturdy replacement. Surtain III also figures to be an upgrade over Donte Jackson at the other corner spot, making this pick a perfect one.
The Panthers should probably investigate trading down, as the other holes they need to fill are a little too rich for the No. 8 overall pick. That said, Carolina goes as far as Sam Darnold takes them, and making sure its defense is spot free allows the Panthers brass to evaluate him as cleanly as possible.
No. 9, Denver Broncos: LB, Micah Parsons, Penn State
This pick for Denver changed significantly with its trade for Teddy Bridgewater on Wednesday.
With either Drew Lock or Bridgewater under center, the Broncos will need zero holes in their defense. That group will be carrying them, and Parsons fills their last need.
Parsons is a freak. He’s built like a middle linebacker but moves like a hybrid player, and reads the opposing quarterback like he’s actually the quarterback. Parsons stuffs the run, can blitz and blow up passing plays and drop into coverage like a safety. He’s incredibly versatile, and can do anything a coordinator asks.
Off the field concerns are valid – Parsons was implicated in hazing and bullying accusations while at Penn State. Those are not qualities you want in a leader on the defensive side of the ball, but he’s joining a defense laden with veterans who will put him in his place if he acts up.
No. 10, Dallas Cowboys: OT, Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
Slater – for now – projects as a guard for the Cowboys, whose offensive line is stacked aside from some youth on the inside. He represents the future at tackle once Tyron Smith retires, but the future Hall of Famer shows no signs of slowing down.
Slater is a massive human being who has fantastic feet, which qualifies him for both guard and tackle on the line. Slater smashed in between Smith and Tyler Biadasz at center recreates the behemoth line Dallas possessed prior to Travis Frederick’s retirement, and addresses a major weakness from last year’s forgotten season.
No. 11, New York Giants: OT, Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
The Giants wish they could land Slater, but take the next best lineman available in Vera-Tucker, who like Slater, can play either guard or tackle.
New York would use Vera-Tucker at guard in the short-term, similar to how Dallas would use Slater. It drafted Andrew Thomas at tackle last year, and has Nate Solder on the other side. Will Hernandez is another young player on the line who should man one guard spot, leaving a spot for Vera-Tucker, and wide open running lanes for Saquon Barkley.
No. 12, Philadelphia Eagles: WR, Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
Bateman will not go this high, and certainly won’t go ahead of Jaylen Waddle, but the Minnesota product is perhaps one of the most underrated players in this draft. Ranked No. 3 on the Hub’s wide receiver board, Bateman might be the safest pass catcher in this class outside of Pitts. He’s big, sturdy and can run routes incredibly efficiently for his size.
This pick might seem redundant after the Eagles took Jalen Reagor in the first round last year, but adding Bateman to the picture gives Philly an all-the-sudden loaded weapons core for second-year QB Jalen Hurts.
Bateman goes ahead of Waddle due to consistency. We’ll get into it below, but while Waddle’s big play ability is intoxicating, it can also be unsustainable at times. Bateman is more of a sure bet to make an impact right away, which is what Philadelphia needs.
No. 13, Los Angeles Chargers: OT, Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
The Chargers join the massive run on offensive linemen by selecting Darrisaw, who’s another incredibly solid tackle at the top of this draft. After nailing Justin Herbert’s selection last year, Los Angeles has to ensure they can protect their franchise quarterback. Darrisaw takes care of one end of the line, with former Packer stalwart Bryan Bulaga manning the other.
No. 14, Minnesota Vikings: DE, Azeez Ojulari, Georgia
The Vikings miss out on the run on offensive lineman – a position they could sorely use – but fill a different hole with Ojulari. The lengthy and bendy defensive end is the best in his admittingly weak class, but that doesn’t reduce his effectiveness. Ojulari screams off the edge with explosive power, and is absolutely chilised in his upper body, making his fantastic athleticism a scary attribute. Pairing him with Danielle Hunter should give Minnesota the fearsome pass rush they once had back for good.
No. 15, New England Patriots: LB, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
New England has almost zero holes, and if they don’t trade up for a quarterback, then a trade down here depending on who is available might make the most sense.
As covered on Monday, the Patriots taking Wilson – even in the unlikely scenario that he falls to them (like now) – isn’t worth the gamble. He’s too far from a sure thing, and it’s super easy to buy into a Cam Newton bounce-back season if that is the direction they decide to go (It seems like Garrappolo might be their path forward, though).
Enter Owusu-Koramoah. The Notre Dame linebacker is a bit tricky of an evaluation, because the success of players like him in the NFL has been limited (Isaiah Simmons’ rookie season was…. not great). He’s also a little small for the position, which is why some teams see him truly as a safety.
He’s one of those do-it-all defenders, similar to the way Parsons is. But Owusu-Koramoah is even more versatile, which also means he might be a little too in over his head. If anyone is going to put him in the right spot, it’s New England, who could use one more linebacker alongside the return of Kyle Van Noy and Donta Hightower.
No. 16, Arizona Cardinals: CB, Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
The concern over Farley’s medicals are legit – and even scary.
But Farley would be CB1 on the Hub’s board if not for them. The Virginia Tech product is a freak – long arms, 6’2 with lockdown potential. Farley would be the perfect replacement for Patrick Peterson, and pair nicely with Byron Murphy Jr.
Arizona doesn’t have a lot of other places to go with this pick. Its roster is sneakily loaded, and just needs to execute next year, making the risk of Farley – a player who had back surgery after playing zero games in 2020 (opt-out), had back spasms the year prior and has dealt with a torn ACL – a justifiable yet terrifying one. The talent is there. Farley just needs to stay on the field, and is worth the first round gamble for a team that can afford it.
No. 17, Las Vegas Raiders: OT, Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State
Las Vegas’ total teardown of its talented offensive line this offseason remains puzzling, but beginning to restock here can put up a pretty convincing front. Jenkins installed on one end leaves Kolton Miller and Richie Incognito on the other side, which is still a quality group.
Jenkins doesn’t have the ceiling that the linemen taken above him do, but he can play multiple positions and works incredibly hard. His lacking athleticism might see him kicked inside at a point during his career, but with Gabe Jackson out in Vegas as well, Jenkins can play wherever the Raiders want him to.
No. 18, Miami Dolphins: DE, Jaelan Phillips, Miami
It might be puzzling to not see receiver be the pick here, but like last year, this class is loaded, and the position can wait for the Dolphins, who are in better already thanks to the addition of Will Fuller.
Miami continues to build in the trenches with this local pick. Phillips is incredibly talented, and will likely go higher than this on Thursday night, but medical and effort concerns seem to be hovering around his stock. That said, Phillips’ length and athleticism is tantalizing, and he has the chance to be a completely unstoppable force in the NFL if he stays healthy and is kept on the right track. Miami’s culture is top-notch, and they could use a presence like Phillips in its front seven.
No. 19, Washington Football Team: QB, Zach Wilson, BYU
If Washington wants Wilson on Thursday night, they’re going to have to come way up. He will obviously not be here at this pick.
Should he be? Wilson clocks in at QB4 on the Hub’s board, and as covered above and on Wednesday, just isn’t worth the risk for New England (Garoppolo is even a better option). No other teams after San Francisco need a quarterback, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see Carolina or Denver do something dumb considering the rumors that have been floating around – the same goes for Detroit, though that would be less dumb on its part.
If Washington is somehow able to grab Wilson – here or in a trade up – it makes sense. That roster is too good to let Ryan Fitzpatrick govern, and Wilson has the potential to elevate it. Lance or Fields also make sense for Washington, as they’d be better off handing the keys to Fitzpatrick than attaching themselves to Mac Jones long-term.
No. 20, Chicago Bears: OT, Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
This might seem high, but a lot of teams around the league need tackles, including Chicago.
Leatherwood is another safe pick whose ceiling is probably lower than others. He’s SEC-battled tested, and has mammoth size. Like Jenkins, that size – and therefore lack of athleticism – could kick him inside, but the Bears could very well go guard as well early in the draft. Trading down would be in Chicago’s best interest here.
No. 21, Indianapolis Colts: DE, Kwity Paye, Michigan
It says a lot about this pass rushing class that Paye, a stubby end who’s a little short for his heavy weight, is the third best prospect at his position.
It’s just not a super talented group this year. But that doesn’t mean Paye won’t be effective. The Colts sorely need a presence on the edge, and Paye plays with a lot of power and has good feet given his size. The concern is that he’s not any more athletic than the tackles he will face, but Indianapolis needs any pressure they can get right now.
No. 22, Tennessee Titans: WR, Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
Waddle will almost certainly not fall this far – his teammate DeVonta Smith might, though.
Tennessee gets incredible value here with Waddle, who seems destined to underwhelm given how much he’s been compared to Tyreek Hill in the pre-draft cycle. While Waddle is bigger and longer than Hill, he’s just not as fast – which is ridiculous to say considering how fast Waddle is in general.
Comparing receivers to Hill is unfair to Hill, and it will eventually become unfair to Waddle. Waddle is certainly a big play machine, but he’s going to make those plays via route-running and tackle shedding. Hill simply runs away from people.
That’s why Waddle is lower than perhaps expected on the Hub’s board. He’s a bit of a boom-or-bust player. He’s not fast enough to blow by defensive backs like Hill, or even like his former Alabama teammate and 2020 first-round pick Henry Ruggs III.
Waddle would excel, however, next to AJ Brown, who’d still be Tennessee’s No. 1 option. Surrounding talent will be key to Waddle’s success, as he’s just not going to be reliable enough to be a lead receiver at the next level.
No. 23, New York Jets: CB, Greg Newsome II, Northwestern
Outside of quarterback and cornerback, the Jets roster isn’t in as bad of shape as one would expect entering Thursday night.
That’s why New York is plugging those holes in this first round mock. With Fields at the top and Newsome II here, the Jets address their two biggest needs, and head into 2021 looking like a potentially competent team.
Newsome II has been a late riser the past couple months, and it’s understandable given his length and ball-hawking mentality. Newsome II gets the edge over Jaycee Horn because of his ability to stay disciplined and still be aggressive.
No. 24, Pittsburgh Steelers: OT, Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame
This is a reach, but the run on tackles early left Pittsburgh in a bit of a bind, and it’s hard to argue for the Steelers taking any other position in the first round. Another safe bet, Eichenberg should be a bookend for the Steelers for a long time to come.
No. 25, Jacksonville Jaguars: S, Trevon Moehrig, TCU
Like the Jets, Jacksonville is sneakily lacking with holes outside of quarterback. Here with Moehrig, the Jaguars address their second-biggest need and enter 2021 in quite good standing.
No. 26, Cleveland Browns: LB, Zaven Collins, Tulsa
It seems likely that Collins will go well before this on Thursday night, but the Browns land an ultra-capable and sorely needed linebacker to their defense in him here. The Tulsa product can do a variety of things on the field, though his large frame may scare teams off regarding how legit those abilities are.
No. 27, Baltimore Ravens: C, Landon Dickerson, Alabama
Dickerson is the safest unsafe prospect in this draft.
If he’s able to stay healthy, he’ll be a starting center in the NFL for 10-plus years. But the Alabama cornerstone dealt with a major injury every year of his college career, and could just be broken, which is a massive shame.
He’s worth the risk, especially for a Baltimore team that desperately needs a center after the position was a constant source of struggle last year. Dickerson has versatility, and can easily play guard, making him more attractive to other teams as well, but if the Ravens land him, expect him to be inserted at the helm of the line right away.
No. 28, New Orleans Saints: LB, Jamin Davis, Kentucky
The Saints scoop up the last linebacker remaining who’s first round worthy in Davis, and fill a hole on their defense. Receiver is also certainly in play here, but Davis’ length and size forecasts him as a force in the New Orleans front seven.
No. 29, Green Bay Packers: C, Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma
Like New Orleans, Green Bay could certainly go receiver and make Aaron Rodgers happy, but having a line to protect him should be first on the priority list, especially considering that Rodgers had a MVP season last year with a weak set of weapons.
The Packers offensive line has fallen off substantially in the past year, and losing Corey Linsley to the Chargers in free agency opens up a hole at center. Humphrey is arguably the best at his position in this draft, contingent on how one feels about Dickerson’s medicals. This might be a reach, but this spot on the line makes the most sense for Green Bay at this point in the draft.
No. 30, Buffalo Bills: CB, Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State
The Bills have the second-best roster in football, so figuring out where to add to it is tough. Samuel Jr. is the best cornerback available, and while Levi Wallace is by no means a bad player, Buffalo could seek to upgrade the spot adjacent to Tre’Davious White with this pick.
Samuel Jr. is his father reincarnated, though he has a lot to live up to.
No. 31, Baltimore Ravens: WR, Rondale Moore, Purdue
After addressing the line a couple picks prior, Baltimore can play around with this pick.
While the Ravens added some receivers to the mix in the offseason, neither of them are likely to move the needle. Moore, despite his concerningly small size, is an absolute play-maker who would help bring Baltimore’s offense back to its 2019-level.
No. 32, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: RB, Najee Harris, Alabama
Tampa Bay has the best roster in the league and practically zero holes.
The idea of drafting a running back in the first round is usually idiotic, but the position is the one need the Buccaneers have. In addition, Najee Harris is far and away the best running back in this class, and has the chance to be something quite special at the next level. Crowd-sourcing the position with the likes of Leonard Fournette isn’t going to remain viable, and Harris gives the Bucs a reliable and versatile option.
How did these guys not go in the first round?
- Jaycee Horn: Horn is just too undisciplined and aggressive as a cornerback coming into the league. Multiple safer options exist in this class.
- Mac Jones: Covered Monday. You just don’t draft average talent in the first round, or even the second.
- Travis Etienne: Far and away the second-best back in this class, but at the end of the day, is still a running back.
- Gregory Rousseau Jr: A top high school recruit who never really lived up the billing and has a small sample size. Incredible potential, but a lot needs to go right.
- Joe Tyron: In a weak class, better ends just exist.
- Jayson Oweh: Pressure without sacks is a legitimate skill in the NFL, but you can’t have that label coming out of college and be a first-round pick. Sorry.
- Carlos Basham Jr.: Like Tyron, better ends just exist. He should be a solid contributor for somebody in year one, though.
- Elijah Moore: Reminiscent of a Jalen Reagor from last year, just less fast, which makes him a tough evaluation.
- Terrace Marshall Jr.: A really intriguing prospect, but issues medically and off-the-field contribute to his fall. His length is among the best in this class, and is a silky smooth route-runner.
- Levi Onwuzurike: It’s a bad defensive line class overall and Onwuzurike feels the burden of that. He should still be a contributor for somebody in year one.
- Kadarius Toney: Gadget players aren’t first-round picks.
Select big boards:
- Trevor Lawrence
- Justin Fields
- Trey Lance
- Zach Wilson
- Kyle Trask
- Mac Jones
- Davis Mills
- Ian Book
- Kellen Mond
- Najee Harris
- Travis Etienne
- Chuba Hubbard
- Javonte Williams
- Kenneth Gainwell
- Jermar Jefferson
- Kylin Hill
- DeVonta Smith
- JaMarr Chase
- Rashod Bateman
- Jaylen Waddle
- Rondale Moore
- Terrace Marshall Jr.
- Tylan Wallace
- Elijah Moore
- Amari Rodgers
- Amon-Ra St. Brown
- Seth Williams
- Kadarius Toney
- Josh Palmer
- Anthony Schwartz
- Dyami Brown
- Frank Darby
- Dax Milne
- Marlon Williams
- Kyle Pitts
- Tommy Tremble
- Pat Freiermuth
- Ben Mason
Positions fluctuate for most of the linemen in this class, so we’re ranking them as a whole based on their flexibility and pure talent. Note: Mock draft may not match big board order. Also: Oh boy.
- Penei Sewell
- Rashawn Slater
- Alijah Vera-Tucker
- Christian Darrisaw
- Teven Jenkins
- Alex Leatherwood
- Landen Dickerson
- Liam Eichenburg
- Creed Humphrey
- Samuel Cosmi
- Wyatt Davis
- Jalen Mayfield
- Walker Little
- Brady Christensen
- Trey Smith
- Stone Forsythe
- Dillion Radunz
- Spencer Brown
- Ben Cleveland
- Ben Meinerz
- Azeez Ojulari
- Jaelan Phillips
- Kwity Paye
- Gregory Rousseau Jr.
- Joe Tyron
- Carlos Basham Jr.
- Ronnie Perkins
- Jayson Oweh
- Christian Barmore
- Levi Onwuzurike
- Milton Williams
- Daviyon Nixon
- Micah Parsons
- Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
- Zaven Collins
- Jamin Davis
- Jabril Cox
- Pete Werner
- Dylan Moses
- Nick Bolton
- Baron Browning
- Patrick Surtain II
- Caleb Farley
- Greg Newsome II
- Asante Samuel Jr.
- Jaycee Horn
- Kelvin Joseph
- Tyson Campbell
- Eric Stokes
- Shaun Wade