After the conclusion of the 2020 NFL season, teams that finished at the bottom of their respective divisions will turn their attention to the draft. This draft has the chance to change the fortunes of these franchises with generational talents at multiple positions this year. The two most coveted quarterbacks, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields have put on spectacular performances this season but will take their talents to the league following this season. Here is the mock of the top-10 picks for the 2021 NFL Draft.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars — QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Up until Week 14, it appeared to be a foregone conclusion that Trevor Lawrence would be headed to New York to play for the Jets. However, a shocking win for the Jets against the Los Angeles Rams means that the Jacksonville Jaguars now hold the first overall pick, not the Jets.
Barring any significant injury or unforeseen event, it is hard to imagine any other player going first overall, no matter who is selecting come draft night. Since his freshman year at Clemson, analysts have had Lawrence as the top prospect in this 2021 class, and that hasn’t changed.
In his three years at Clemson, Lawrence has passed for over 9500 yards and 88 touchdowns. He has the athleticism to maneuver the pocket and pick up yardage with his legs as well. In terms of size, athleticism, and mechanics, Lawrence stands at the top by himself.
The Jaguars have struggled to make an impactful first-round selection in the last few years. Luke Joeckel, Blake Bortles, Dante Fowler Jr., Jalen Ramsey, and Leonard Fournette are Jacksonville’s most recent top-five picks. None of those five players are on the Jaguars active roster. While Jaguars’ current quarterback Gardner Minshew has shown flashes of potential, the Jaguars can’t afford to pass up on a prospect like Lawrence.
2. New York Jets — QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
The Jets may have lost their chance at Lawrence with their first win of the season but have the opportunity to select another talented quarterback at second overall with Fields.
Field’s numbers are not as impressive as Lawrence’s. Part of the reason is that Fields only attempted 39 passes during his freshman season at Georgia. After wasting a precious year of eligibility, Fields transferred to Ohio State, where he broke out as a sophomore. In his last two seasons with the Buckeyes, Fields passed for over 5100 yards and 62 touchdowns. Fields is the quintessential, dual-threat quarterback. He is prolific in running RPOs and can pick up the first down with his legs if given a chance. He has performed on the biggest stage as well. With over 400 total yards and 6 touchdown passes, his showing against the Clemson Tigers was one of the most impressive performances of this college football season.
Fields’ biggest issue at this point is his decision-making, highlighted in the Indiana and Northwestern games. Two of his three interceptions in the Indiana game came when Fields carelessly threw the ball up for grabs while being wrestled to the ground by defenders. The smart play is to secure the ball and live to see another down. While it is a correctable tendency, more unforced and costly errors are the last thing the New York Jets need at this point in their rebuild.
The selection of Fields seems harsh to current quarterback Sam Darnold. While Darnold has not lived up to the second overall billing, his weapons have been subpar during his tenure in New York. Don’t be surprised if the Jets decide to stick with Darnold and move out of this draft slot in order to acquire more draft capital. If the Jets do decide to select a new signal-caller, BYU quarterback Zach Wilson is Fields’ main competition to be selected at the No. 2 slot after a phenomenal junior season for the Cougars.
3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston Texans) — OT Penei Sewell, Oregon
The Miami Dolphins enjoyed their first winning season since 2016 but finished short of the playoffs. Thanks to the trade that sent offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil to the Texans, the Dolphins own the Texan’s first-round pick for this year. While they gave up Tunsil for this pick, the Dolphins select another offensive tackle in Sewell as they can’t afford to pass up on the surefire prospect.
Sewell was by far the best player on the Oregon Ducks offensive line for two seasons before opting out of his junior season to prepare for the draft. Watching one game of Sewell’s tape over the last two years shows why he is a consensus top-5 pick for the upcoming draft. An absolute mauler in the run game, Sewell uses his 6’6, 325-pound frame to bury defenders and create lanes for runners. In pass protection, Sewell was nothing short of phenomenal. Out of 678 career pass-blocking snaps, Sewell gave up just one sack. A former First Team All-American in 2019, Sewell is undoubtedly the top tackle prospect in this class.
Tackle is not necessarily a position of need for the Dolphins but Sewell is too good to pass up on. The Dolphins’ current tackles are Austin Jackson and Jesse Davis. Both had solid seasons but Sewell would be an upgrade over both. Ideally, the Dolphins would put Sewell at tackle and bump Davis into guard, which was his original position. The addition of Sewell combined with the breakout of running back Myles Gaskin could make the Dolphins running game a force to be reckoned with. Sewell’s pass protection also is of huge benefit to quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who was sacked 19 times during his rookie campaign.
4. Atlanta Falcons — LB Micah Parsons, Penn State
Atlanta must shore up what was a below-average defense this season. Amidst the astonishing amounts of blown leads, the defense lacked discipline and playmaking ability. As they attempt to address that issue, they turn to Parsons out of Penn State.
Parsons opted out of his junior season, so he has no statistics recorded this year. However, his freshman and sophomore year numbers speak for themselves. Over his two years of play, Parsons accumulated 191 total tackles, 18 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks.
His player comparison is similar to another linebacker who was also selected 5th overall: Buccaneers linebacker Devin White. Parsons and White are the closest things the NFL has to human missiles. Both players play with speed and explosion and have special playmaking ability. Parsons excels at making plays behind the line of scrimmage and can tackle in space.
Many analysts have the Falcons selecting one of the top quarterbacks in the draft at this spot. This seems harsh to current Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who completed another stellar season that went under the radar due to the Falcons poor overall performance. Ryan’s 4581 passing yards was more than MVP candidates Aaron Rodgers and Russel Wilson.
The Falcons rank 17th in opponents’ turnovers and 19th in sacks this season. Parsons’s impact on the defensive side of the ball for Atlanta will be impactful from Day 1. Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain or Virginia Tech corner Caleb Farley are also both options at fifth overall for the Falcons. Atlanta lacks depth at the linebacker position, and Parsons has an easy path to playing time should he be selected by the Falcons.
5. Cincinnati Bengals — DE Kwity Paye, Michigan
The Bengals are unfortunate to land at 5th overall, where they will likely miss out on Sewell. Look for the Bengals to make a deal with the Dolphins on draft night to move up to select Sewell. However, in a mock with no trades, the Bengals stick with their pick and select Paye.
Paye is arguably the top pass rusher in the draft after four years at Michigan. He has an extremely high ceiling based on his natural athletic ability. After four years with the Wolverines, Paye amassed 23.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. Paye’s combination of blistering speed off the line and powerful hands at the point of attack makes him an offensive lineman’s worst nightmare.
While Sewell was the better prospect, Paye is a great consolation prize and addresses a dire need for Cincinnati. The Bengals ranked last in sacks last season with 17 sacks. They also allowed the second-highest yards per carry, with opponents gaining an average of five yards per carry. Paye will help the Bengals front seven generate more pressure and help finish plays behind the line of scrimmage. The Bengals could also opt for one of the top receivers in the draft at fifth, making LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and Alabama’s Devonta Smith both options here.
6. Philadelphia Eagles — WR Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
After a tumultuous season for the Eagles, they find themselves selecting at sixth overall. Given the teams selecting in front of them, the Eagles should have a chance to select either Chase or Smith. By the smallest of margins, the Eagles select Chase to be their new number one receiver.
This pick may surprise people as Devonta Smith was the clear-cut best receiver in college football this past season. With that being said, those same people saying Smith should be selected over Chase clearly forgot what Chase accomplished during his two seasons with the Tigers in Baton Rouge.
Like Parsons, Chase opted out of the 2020 season. This was a fantastic business decision, given Chase’s numbers from his sophomore season. On what was one of the greatest college football teams ever in the 2019-20 LSU Tigers, Chase led the team in receiving yards (1780) and receiving touchdowns (20). Chase accomplished these numbers on a team that contained current Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson, who is now in contention for Rookie of the Year in the NFL.
Chase has a big catch radius and plays with fluidity and efficiency. He is powerful at the apex of his jump and creates separation with sharp route running. Whether it be Carson Wentz or Jalen Hurts at quarterback for the Eagles, either would be delighted to see Chase as their top receiver entering the following season. Surtain or Farley are also options if still available as Philadelphia’s secondary needs improvement.
7. Detriot Lions — WR Devonta Smith, Alabama
Similar to the Eagles, the Lions had a disastrous season. After finishing last in the division, the Lions front office gave up on the Matt Patricia experiment and fired the head coach after three seasons with the team. In what looks like yet another rebuild for Detroit, they start it with the selection of Alabama receiver Devonta Smith.
Smith was by far the most explosive receiver in college football this season. He ranks first in the nation in receptions (105) and receiving yards (1641) and second in the nation in receiving touchdowns (20). Smith’s combination of elite playmaking ability, blazing speed, and meticulous route running make him hard to pass up on. He has the best chance of any non-quarterback in college football to win this year’s Heisman trophy. Smith has done it against every level of competition through his four seasons with the Crimson Tide. His most recent explosion was in the College Football Playoff semi final game where he torched the Notre Dame secondary for 130 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Lions also may consider a quarterback at this spot at seventh overall. A trade into the top 5 to select Fields is certainly a possibility. However, current quarterback Matthew Stafford has performed well this season, and the Lions’ top three receivers will all be out of contract at the end of this season. An explosive receiver like Smith seems like the logical pick at the No. 7 slot.
8. Carolina Panthers — TE Kyle Pitts, Florida
Carolina understood that they would have to be patient for success when they signed head coach Matt Rhule to a seven-year deal in the last offseason. They start their rebuild by selecting the dynamic Florida tight end, Kyle Pitts.
Pitts is one of the most complete prospects in the entire nation. After an unspectacular freshman season, Pitts exploded onto the scene. In his last two seasons for the Gators, Pitts has recorded 97 receptions, 1419 yards, and 17 touchdowns. His 12 touchdowns this season are good for third in the nation. According to Pro Football Focus, Pitts’ 98.9 receiving grade against single coverage is the best in the country. With his size and athletic ability, Pitts is a matchup nightmare all over the field.
Rhule decided to use every one of the Panther’s draft picks last season on a defensive player. While the Panthers don’t have a desperate need for a tight end, a receiving threat like Pitts is too good to pass up on. A receiving trio of Pitts, D.J Moore, and Robby Anderson could make Carolina a formidable offense in the NFC.
While Carolina did just sign quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year deal, the Panthers could also be looking for a fresh start if the opportunity presents itself. While Lawrence and Fields will most likely be gone before their pick, BYU’s Wilson or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance may still be available if Carolina feels that either is their quarterback of the future.
9. Denver Broncos — CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
The top two cornerbacks fly off the board back to back as the Broncos address their secondary with Surtain Jr. out of Alabama.
The son of former NFL cornerback Patrick Surtain, Surtain Jr. has followed in his fathers’ footsteps in his quest to play in the NFL. At 6’2, 202 pounds, Surtain plays a very methodical style of football at the cornerback position. He reads receivers exceptionally well, which allows him to make well-timed, penalty avoiding plays on the ball. He is active at the catch point and plays with physicality to finish plays.
The Broncos already have some talented players in the secondary. Bryce Callahan was one of Pro Football Focus’s highest-graded corners in the league until he suffered a season-ending injury. Rookie Michael Ojemudia also appeared to be a budding star after starting 11 games for the Broncos last year. However, in a division with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, you can never have too many great corners. The addition of Surtain could make for the second coming of the “No Fly Zone”.
10. Dallas Cowboys — CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
The Cowboys had an unfortunate turn of events when quarterback Dak Prescott’s season ended with a severe ankle injury. On the bright side, it landed the team a high draft pick to address the defense, which they do with Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley.
Yet another opt-out, Farley chose to forgo his final season to prepare for the draft. A physical corner at 6’2, 207 pounds, Farley terrorized opposing quarterbacks in his two years with Virginia Tech. Farley had a combined 19 passes defended in his two seasons with the Hokies. According to Pro Football Focus, he was also only one of two corners in the country with 40+ targets and less than ten 1st downs allowed in 2019.
The Cowboys rank first in opponents receiving touchdowns allowed this season with 31. Losing Byron Jones to the Dolphins left a significant hole in the secondary, and Farley is just the player to patch the gap.