2021 NFL Mock Draft: Matt Miller's Way-Too-Early Predictions
It's a tradition as old as my time at Bleacher Report to immediately feed the need for an early mock draft as soon as the current draft year ends. This year is no different with a dangerously early look at the 2021 class.
First things first: The draft order is based on Super Bowl betting odds and adjusted only slightly for playoff seeding. Please do not hate-tweet or comment about the draft order.
Now that that's out of the way...let's take a look at what could be a very good 2021 draft class. There are elite talents at quarterback and one of the highest-potential offensive tackles I've evaluated to go along with a wide receiver class that will challenge the 2020 crop in terms of top-end talent and first-round selections.
You know the big names—Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Ja'Marr Chase—but the class also features an FCS quarterback who could end up the best of the bunch and a list of skill players on offense that has record-setting potential for the most combined selections at running back and wide receiver.
1. Cincinnati Bengals — OT Penei Sewell, Oregon
One year after selecting quarterback Joe Burrow with the No. 1 overall pick, the Cincinnati Bengals perfect the offensive line by selecting an elite left tackle prospect whom I've already compared to Jason Peters in terms of body type and movement.
Sliding Jonah Williams back to right tackle, where he started his career at Alabama, and aligning Penei Sewell on the left gives the Bengals a threatening bookend duo.
Sewell's 2019 tape showed no weaknesses. If he continues to play at that clip in 2020, he'll be a lock to be the first overall pick if a team without a need at quarterback selects in this spot.
2. Washington Redskins — WR Ja'Marr Chase, LSU
The best-case scenario for the Redskins is that Dwayne Haskins develops into the quarterback they—and I—thought he could be coming out of Ohio State. To give him the best chance of developing into a high-level starter, the Redskins must give him legitimate weapons in addition to those already on the roster.
Ja'Marr Chase is one of the most explosive and naturally strong sophomore receivers you're ever going to evaluate. The biggest question will be how he develops without Joe Burrow at quarterback and Joe Brady as an offensive assistant, but the raw talent he displayed this past season makes him an early watch-list top-three player.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars — QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
If the Jaguars are selecting No. 3 overall, as the early Super Bowl odds have them ranked, it most likely means the Gardner Minshew II experiment didn't work. It may also mean a new head coach and general manager.
Whether it's just a new quarterback or a new regime, starting over with Trevor Lawrence is what many franchises will no doubt be angling to do this coming season. One area scout who covers Clemson already told me Lawrence is the best sophomore quarterback since Peyton Manning.
That's a lofty comparison to live up to, and in the past we've seen highly regarded quarterbacks struggle in their final season (Jared Goff, Deshaun Watson, Justin Herbert, etc.), but Lawrence's combination of size (6'6", 220 lbs), athleticism and arm strength makes him the kind of prospect you think about losing games for.
4. Carolina Panthers — QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
Clemson's Trevor Lawrence gets all the preseason hype as far as quarterbacks go, but don't sleep on North Dakota State's Trey Lance.
The 6'3", 224-pound redshirt freshman threw for 28 touchdowns against zero interceptions with a 66.9 completion percentage in 2019 and then rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns to add to his impressive breakout season.
The Panthers are committed to Teddy Bridgewater for 2020, but the future is wide-open. If a dynamic, athletic passer like Lance enters the 2021 draft as a redshirt sophomore, there will be considerable excitement among NFL franchises.
5. Miami Dolphins — WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
Tua Tagovailoa is reunited with one of his favorite targets as the Miami Dolphins are in desperate need of young, fast weapons at wide receiver. This move gives Miami a player Jerry Jeudy told me is just as fast as Henry Ruggs III. In case you need a reminder, Ruggs ran a 4.27-second 40-yard dash at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine and was the fastest player in the draft class.
Waddle is an explosive downfield threat but also an accomplished route-runner who is more of a blend between Jeudy's routes and Ruggs' speed. That's something the Dolphins sorely lack and desperately need.
6. New York Jets — EDGE Gregory Rousseau, Miami
An impressive 2020 draft class saw the New York Jets check off needs at left tackle, wide receiver and cornerback. Going into 2021's offseason, there could still be a big need for a premier pass-rusher unless they add one in free agency.
Miami's Gregory Rousseau is the type of impact rusher the Jets can hope lasts until they are next on the clock. The 6'7", 253-pound Rousseau has speed, length and has shown impressive production with 15.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in only 14 games played.
7. Detroit Lions — WR Devonta Smith, Alabama
The Detroit Lions didn't add a premium wide receiver prospect in the 2020 draft class but can head into the 2021 offseason comfortable in their ability to add one with many of their current starters hitting free agency.
Devonta Smith exploded onto the scene for Alabama in an impressive wide receiver room this season but still managed to impress with massive performances like his five-touchdown game against Ole Miss. His production might take a hit with a new quarterback, but his traits point to Round 1, as he looks like a clone of Jerry Jeudy.
8. New York Giants — WR Justyn Ross, Clemson
If Devonta Smith is a clone of Jerry Jeudy, Justyn Ross is a faster clone of Tee Higgins. That'll be good enough for the New York Giants, who need size and speed and are still looking for a true No. 1 wide receiver.
Ross has shared the spotlight with a talented receiver trio in the past but will be the focal point of Trevor Lawrence's passing attack this year and should have no issue posting the type of production and showing the traits needed to be a first-rounder.
9. Arizona Cardinals — OT Samuel Cosmi, Texas
Kliff Kingsbury and the Arizona Cardinals focused on defense in the first round of the 2020 draft and instead waited for Houston's Josh Jones in Round 3. But with D.J. Humphries' play uneven and his future uncertain, the front office is in position to get a very athletic, very promising left tackle in Texas' Samuel Cosmi in 2021.
Cosmi is a natural athlete and a smooth operator at left tackle. With Jones likely moving to right tackle in the NFL, if Humphries regresses to his more consistent level of play this season, the Cardinals must consider a first-rounder at tackle to keep Kyler Murray and the high-octane offense operating.
10. Atlanta Falcons — RB Najee Harris, Alabama
In a surprise move, the Atlanta Falcons did not draft a running back in the 2020 class and instead focused on defense, with just one selection coming on offense at center.
That'll change in 2021 with Alabama's Najee Harris, a powerful, athletic, productive runner who would have been a top-three running back had he entered the 2020 class. Harris' vision, strength and burst are eye-opening enough to make the Falcons consider a running back very early in next year's draft.
11. Miami Dolphins (from Houston) — RB Travis Etienne, Clemson
The Miami Dolphins opted not to draft a running back in 2020, which may point to how the front office values the position. But with their fifth first-rounder in two seasons, it's possible they'll be more open-minded to adding an electric option at the position.
Travis Etienne is a blur in space and has excellent hands. Whether he's paired with the existing backs or asked to take the featured job right away, he has a spark in his game the Dolphins could use in the backfield.
12. Denver Broncos — LB Dylan Moses, Alabama
After building an offense that should make Drew Lock very excited, the Broncos can focus on building their front seven in 2021. Alabama's fantastic senior ‘backer, Dylan Moses, is the type of athletic middle defender you want to build around.
Moses surprised many when he returned to Tuscaloosa for his senior season, but in doing so, he can prove he's fully rehabbed from the knee injury that cost him the 2019 season and show what he's improved in his down time after being one of the nation's best linebackers in 2018.
13. Chicago Bears — QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
Mitchell Trubisky is likely on his way out of town after his rookie contract expires following the 2020 season, and there's no reason to trust Nick Foles as the long-term starting option. The Bears could be drafting a second first-rounder at quarterback in 2021 if the current regime gets another chance to find a signal-caller.
Fields had an impressive breakout campaign in 2019 with 41 passing touchdowns and only three interceptions while adding 484 yards on the ground with 10 more touchdowns. He could propel himself even higher up the board if he builds upon the traits he showed in his first year starting. For the Bears, an upgrade in terms of athleticism and arm strength is much needed.
14. Cleveland Browns — DL Marvin Wilson, Florida State
The Browns have an offensive line and weapons on offense to go along with a defense loaded with first-rounders at cornerback and edge-rusher. Now, it's time to build the middle of the field.
Marvin Wilson can play anywhere between the tackles and do it at a high level. The Browns can unleash him as a 3-technique, where he'll wreak havoc and free up Myles Garrett and a group of speedy linebackers to make plays.
15. Tennessee Titans — WR Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
Speed on offense is a primary need for the Tennessee Titans as they look to get back to the AFC title game. Minnesota's Rashod Bateman is a legitimate superstar who broke out in 2019 to the tune of 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns while showing the athleticism needed to be a first-rounder.
Bateman and the Gophers offense will be loaded in his junior season with quarterback Tanner Morgan returning. A stock-climbing season isn't out of the question, and Bateman could find himself drafted much higher next April.
16. Las Vegas Raiders — CB Shaun Wade, Ohio State
The Raiders added all types of speed on offense in 2020's draft and also grabbed a physical cornerback in Ohio State's Damon Arnette. Since we all know how much Mike Mayock loves the Buckeyes prospects, he goes right back to the well for an upgrade at outside cornerback in Shaun Wade.
Wade almost entered the 2020 draft and would have been a first-rounder. Instead, he returns to Columbus with a chance to be the first cornerback off the board in 2021 thanks to his speed, playmaking skills and instincts in coverage.
17. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Rams) — OT Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
After finding a quarterback of the future in Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars go the route of the 2020 Miami Dolphins and select a left tackle of the future, too.
Alex Leatherwood was another surprise return to Alabama this season, but the senior-to-be has the pedigree, tools and potential to become a first-round left tackle prospect with time to improve his agility and timing in pass protection. With a good offseason and regular season, Leatherwood can move into the top 15 next year.
18. Minnesota Vikings — DL Tyler Shelvin, LSU
Bolstering the middle of the defense was something we thought the Vikings might do in 2020 before going all-in on wide receiver, cornerback and a developmental left tackle. That's OK, as there is a nose tackle prospect in 2021 that'll have folks thinking Derrick Brown all over again.
Tyler Shelvin would have been a first-rounder if he entered the 2020 draft class. He's already regarded as one of the best defensive tackles in college and will only improve that status with another monster season in Baton Rouge.
19. Seattle Seahawks — OG Trey Smith, Tennessee
The Seahawks went defense with their first two picks in the 2020 draft and then added a standout right guard out of LSU in Damien Lewis. Adding the best left guard in college football in the first round of the 2021 draft would give the Seahawks an interior offensive line the rest of the NFL would envy.
Trey Smith has overcome much since missing 2018 because of blood clots. His power, athleticism and ability to get to linebackers in the running game are awesome. Smith's medical history will have to be vetted, but his play is first-round-caliber.
20. Los Angeles Chargers — OT Walker Little, Stanford
It would be unlike general manager Tom Telesco to draft an offensive tackle in the first round, but the team has a major need at the position and is unlikely to find one in free agency or via trade who has the potential of Stanford's Walker Little.
After missing the remainder of the 2019 season with a knee injury suffered in the opener, Little almost declared for the 2020 draft but instead opted to go back to Stanford to improve his stock. That will be easy to do if he returns to his pre-injury form. Heading into the '19 campaign, he was one of the best tackles in the country and had an early Round 1 grade.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers — CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
This represents a slight fall for Patrick Surtain II based on where he'll sit on my early 2021 big board, but the Pittsburgh Steelers will gladly accept the slide as they get a potential shutdown cornerback in the early 20s of the round.
Surtain has excellent size (6'2", 203 lbs), an NFL bloodline and the instincts to match his potential with ball skills that teams covet. He's fast, physical and tough to beat on the line of scrimmage in press coverage.
22. Green Bay Packers — LB Micah Parsons, Penn State
Another NFL draft and another year the Green Bay Packers pass on receivers. No, we're not joking. The position is a need, but the Packers seem intent on finding playmakers through another route.
Micah Parsons is a rock-solid linebacker with the athleticism to play any of the 4-3 alignments and the speed to show up as a dynamic three-down playmaker. Parsons is a top-15 player with the athletic upside to become a top-10 pick.
23. Buffalo Bills — WR Terrace Marshall Jr., LSU
Yep, LSU has even more playmakers at wide receiver. After seeing Justin Jefferson drafted in the first round with the 2020 class, the Tigers will watch Terrace Marshall Jr. join Ja'Marr Chase on Day 1 of the 2021 draft.
Marshall is poised for a breakout as he replaces the lost production of Jefferson, but unlike the newest member of the Minnesota Vikings, this LSU wideout has elite size at 6'4" and 200 pounds. He's a lot like 2020 prospect Tee Higgins with his length and ability to track the ball down the field—two qualities the Bills need opposite Stefon Diggs.
24. Philadelphia Eagles — S JaCoby Stevens, LSU
The Eagles didn't address the defensive backfield in the 2020 draft until the fourth round and will need to make it a priority next offseason. One quick fix would be to look at the LSU secondary and the next man up at the safety position—JaCoby Stevens.
Coaches at Baton Rouge already believe Stevens has first-round potential, and it's easy to agree with that after watching him play in person four times last season. Stevens has range, but he's also a responsible, smart player in coverage who can fill the need for a versatile defender at the position.
25. Indianapolis Colts — WR Rondale Moore, Purdue
The Colts may be an early mock-draft favorite to draft a quarterback, but Jacob Eason had a potential-starter grade on my 2020 draft board and shouldn't be counted out from winning the job in 2021 once Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett are no longer under contract.
Whether it's one of the aforementioned veteran players or Eason, they'll need more help at receiver even after the Colts drafted a big target in Michael Pittman Jr. Purdue's Rondale Moore is a burner with elite yards-after-catch ability. While he may be undersized (5'9", 180 lbs), he offers a skill set that teams will be hard-pressed to bypass in Round 1.
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — RB Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
There's reason to believe Tom Brady will still be the quarterback in Tampa one year from today, which makes loading up the offense through the draft for his last year under contract a smart bet.
Bruce Arians loves pass-catching running backs in his offense, and the early look at 2020 has Oklahoma State do-it-all Chuba Hubbard as the best of the class. He's productive both as a runner and receiver and has the power and burst to be this year's version of Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
27. New England Patriots — OT Jalen Mayfield, Michigan
How the Patriots rebuild an offense that was tailored around Tom Brady will be fascinating to watch. One early look at the future of the roster indicates that offensive tackle could be a sneaky need if the team moves on from Marcus Cannon or if 2018 first-rounder Isaiah Wynn doesn't play up to expectations.
Michigan's Jalen Mayfield popped up often in 2019 when coaches were asked about toughest linemen to play against. He's strong, physical and athletic—qualities that already have him compared to 2020 first-rounder Jedrick Wills after he started every game in his true sophomore season at right tackle.
28. Dallas Cowboys — TE Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
While definitely not the biggest need, we saw in the 2020 draft that the Dallas Cowboys want to surround Dak Prescott with talented weapons. Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth is well worth the price of selecting him in the late first round.
Had Freiermuth entered the 2020 draft class, teams would have seriously considered selecting him over Notre Dame's Cole Kmet, who was the first tight end off the board. A solid 2020 season could push Freiermuth into a lock as a first-rounder.
29. New Orleans Saints — QB Jamie Newman, Georgia
Yes, the team has Taysom Hill under contract for two more seasons and it has reportedly brought in Jameis Winston on a one-year deal, but until Hill completes more than his six career completions, it is very hard to believe the 29-year-old is the long-term answer at quarterback for life after Drew Brees.
Georgia's Jamie Newman looks to break out this year after transferring from Wake Forest, where he was already one of the more exciting underclassmen in this class. Don't forget, the last three No. 1 picks in the NFL draft (Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Joe Burrow) were all transfer quarterbacks. Newman is one to keep a close eye on.
30. Baltimore Ravens — IDL LaBryan Ray, Alabama
The Ravens are the best drafting team in the NFL and continue that streak with a steal of a selection in this too-early prediction of 2021 with a young nose tackle who has big-time potential.
LaBryan Ray is the No. 2 defensive tackle in the 2021 class based on early looks, but he has the movement skills and power to shoot to the top of the board. Like many Alabama defensive linemen before him, he has the potential to play 3- or 5-technique. However, his athleticism at 6'5" and 292 pounds makes him more like Jonathan Allen than Raekwon Davis when comparing former Crimson Tide D-linemen.
31. San Francisco 49ers — IOL Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma
The 49ers offensive line will look very different in 2020 with Trent Williams replacing Joe Staley at left tackle, but one thing will remain constant—a need to get better at offensive guard.
For most of the 2019 season, Creed Humphrey was the top-rated center on my big board. The redshirt sophomore opted to return to Oklahoma for another season and has a chance to leave Norman with a locked-in Round 1 grade if he continues to show the mobility, poise and awareness that made him the best center in college football last year.
32. Kansas City Chiefs — WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
The rich get richer as the Kansas City Chiefs select a wide receiver to replace Sammy Watkins and pair with Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman at the end of Round 1.
Chris Olave is ready to break out now that he isn't in the shadow of K.J. Hill and Austin Mack, senior receivers on last year's Ohio State roster. His size (6'1", 188 lbs) and route running are eerily similar to Justin Jefferson's tape. That was good enough to make the LSU star the No. 22 overall pick in the 2020 draft class. If Olave plays as expected this season, he might be long gone by the time the Chiefs are on the clock.