Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook: Latest 2021 NFL Mock Draft and More

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterDecember 22, 2020

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) runs in for a touchdown during the second half of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game against Notre Dame , Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
Brian Blanco/Associated Press

The New York Jets had it made: Lose the rest of their games and secure the No. 1 pick to draft prospect god and Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. But someone forgot to tell the players, and the Jets beat the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday to win their first game and fall out of the No. 1 spot in the draft.

So...what now?

In my final scouting notebook at Bleacher Report, we're going out with a bang and a full Round 1 mock draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars are on the clock.

   

The Mock Draft

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
The Jags had to be celebrating as they watched the Jets line up in victory formation. That win means Jacksonville—if it loses its next two games—will own the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft thanks to the tiebreaker rules the league uses (record, then strength of schedule). If the team with the first selection has even a question about its quarterback situation, Lawrence will be the pick. The Jaguars do need a quarterback, so Lawrence is the pick.

2. New York Jets: OT Penei Sewell, Oregon
The Jets were projected to draft a quarterback in Lawrence if they had the No. 1 pick, so what's different? The gap between Lawrence and the next best quarterback in this class. Would Joe Douglas rather have Sam Darnold or the choice between Justin Fields and Zach Wilson? Don't be surprised if New York loads up on supporting Darnold this offseason instead of giving up on him.

Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

3. Cincinnati Bengals: OT Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
This would be a nightmare scenario for the Bengals with Sewell off the board, but considering Slater a consolation prize would be a disservice to him and his game. In fact, multiple area scouts and scouting directors I've spoken to recently believe Slater is the best offensive tackle in the class.

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4. Carolina Panthers: QB Zach Wilson, BYU
In April, the Panthers used every pick at their disposal on a defender. That will not be the case this year, as head coach Matt Rhule is in prime position to draft his quarterback of the future.

5. Atlanta Falcons: LB Micah Parsons, Penn State
Drafting a linebacker in the top five is risky, but Parsons' three-down ability would be a major boost to a defense that has no answers for solid quarterback play. Don't think of him as just a linebacker—he's a run-stuffer, pass-rusher and cover man.

6. Miami Dolphins (via Houston Texans): WR Ja'Marr Chase, LSU
Did you forget about Chase? General managers haven't. He's a physical, dominant wide receiver and will pair perfectly with the talent being assembled by Chris Grier to complement quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

7. Philadelphia Eagles: WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama
We've all seen this offense, and while it does look better with Jalen Hurts at quarterback, the front office has to bolster the receiving corps with a No. 1 option. Smith isn't the biggest or fastest, but he's always open and has automatic hands.

8. Dallas Cowboys: TE Kyle Pitts, Florida
Tight end isn't the Cowboys' biggest need, but there isn't an offensive tackle or pass-rusher of value available, so it would be about taking the best player available. Pitts is a mismatch for defenses with his size, catch radius and sneaky route running. Pair him with the trio at receiver, and defenses will have no answer.

John Raoux/Associated Press

9. Los Angeles Chargers: CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
A left tackle would solve a lot of problems, but again, there isn't a great value available. The cornerback position is an area of need. Surtain has an NFL pedigree and excellent length and has been asked to lock up elite playmakers in the SEC. He's ready.

10. New York Giants: WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
The Giants offensive line has come together to a point that a first-round selection there isn't automatic. What should be is ensuring that Daniel Jones (or Colt McCoy) has weapons at receiver. Waddle is a home run hitter with elite speed and excellent field vision.

11. Detroit Lions: QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
It's hard to predict what the Lions will do without knowing who the general manager and head coach will be, but Matthew Stafford is 32 years old, and the team could get out of his contract after next season with a limited cap hit. Drafting his replacement would make perfect sense.

12. San Francisco 49ers: QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
Jimmy Garoppolo isn't the answer, and the 49ers can acknowledge that mistake and let him go this offseason with a small cap hit. It's time for Kyle Shanahan to pick his quarterback, and Lance's dual-threat ability could give Shanahan Deshaun Watson vibes.

13. Denver Broncos: LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
When you have to deal with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert in your division, it's a good idea to draft a rangy linebacker who can cover tight ends, chase down running backs and even pull the chain as a blitzer when needed. Owusu-Koramoah is the best three-down linebacker in the draft and will be an instant impact player.

14. Minnesota Vikings: OT Samuel Cosmi, Texas
With Brian O'Neill and Ezra Cleveland providing a blueprint, it seems like the Vikings prefer lean, athletic offensive linemen who can be molded into their roles. Cosmi is athletic and full of potential. If he can get stronger in the running game, he could be very special on the blindside.

Roger Steinman/Associated Press

15. New England Patriots: QB Mac Jones, Alabama
Bill Belichick tabs his quarterback of the future. Jones' deep ball is a thing of beauty, and he is more agile in the pocket than given credit for. In fact, you could argue he shows a lot of the traits with which Jimmy Garoppolo intrigued the Patriots early in his career. A younger, cheaper and potentially better version of a quarterback this front office loved.

16. Chicago Bears: WR Elijah Moore, Ole Miss
Will the Bears bring back Mitchell Trubisky after he's looked solid in the last three weeks? Maybe, but only if a clear-cut better option is on the table. More likely is that the Bears will finally try to surround him with a supporting cast that can help them evaluate him in his final year under contract.

17. Las Vegas Raiders: DL Daviyon Nixon, Iowa
A huge riser in the rankings, Nixon was someone I didn't expect to declare until recent conversations with agents and scouts. He's great in the middle and a big-time penetrator. He'd fit in nicely next to Maxx Crosby to terrify AFC West offensive lines.

18. Baltimore Ravens: Edge Joseph Ossai, Texas
A big-bodied wide receiver would be nice, but the value is not there, and with Kyle Pitts off the board, the Ravens will be more likely to wait until Round 2 to address the position. What they can do is grab a high-potential pass-rusher with the length, speed and power to be a perfect match for the defense.

19. Washington Football Team: QB Kyle Trask, Florida
Will Washington give Dwayne Haskins Jr. another chance? Can it rely on Alex Smith? The answer to both questions appears to be negative. Outside of adding a veteran or bounce-back player such as Jimmy Garoppolo, it has to find someone Ron Rivera and the front office believe in. Trask isn't the most athletic quarterback, but his accuracy and decision-making are starter-level.

20. Arizona Cardinals: CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
Patrick Peterson's potential replacement will arrive in the form of Farley. An opt-out player this year, Farley could land as the top cornerback in the draft with solid predraft workouts. He has the size and aggressive style of play to fit the Cardinals defense.

21. Miami Dolphins: Edge Kwity Paye, Michigan
After landing a top wide receiver early, the Dolphins will go to the other side of the ball, as Brian Flores is building a dominant unit. Paye is 272 pounds of athleticism and power and would be their version of Chandler Jones as a three- or four-man-front edge-rusher extraordinaire.

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Edge Gregory Rousseau, Miami
The Buccaneers don't have many on-paper needs, which makes the move a best-player-available pick. Rousseau opted out this season but in 2019 showed a dominant streak with 19.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks. He's raw, but his ceiling is unlimited.

23. Cleveland Browns: CB Derion Kendrick, Clemson
Wide receiver could be tempting if the Browns move on from Odell Beckham Jr., but youngsters Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones are making plays. Instead, they will address a secondary that's struggled to stay healthy and add a potential star in Kendrick.

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

24. Indianapolis Colts: Edge Jaelan Phillips, Miami
A quarterback or left tackle of the future could be in play, but the board has fallen in a way that replacing the aging Justin Houston would be a better value pick for Chris Ballard's front office. Phillips dominated this year with an outside speed move that will give offensive tackles nightmares.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Los Angeles Rams): OT Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
The Jaguars picked the best quarterback in the class, and now they'll move to protect him. Darrisaw is a little raw, but his athleticism and potential could have him climbing boards like Mekhi Becton did last year.

26. New York Jets (via Seattle Seahawks): WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
If the Jets are going to try to build around Darnold, they have to do more than just protect him. It will be key to give him weapons to go along with promising young players in Denzel Mims and Ty Johnson. Olave is a bit of a possession player, but he's perfectly suited to be the route-runner opposite the athletic, big-play Mims.

27. Tennessee Titans: OT Dillon Radunz, North Dakota State
The best move a front office can make is to acknowledge a mistake—and that's how last year's first-rounder, Isaiah Wilson, looks after a disastrous season. Radunz is rock-solid on and off the field and has the power to play on the right side much in the same way Jack Conklin did.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers: RB Najee Harris, Alabama
With Ben Roethlisberger announcing he'll return for the 2021 season, the Steelers don't have to rush the pick of a quarterback. And that's good news because the top players are all off the board. Instead, they'll address a backfield that's been a disappointment in the running game.

29. Buffalo Bills: IOL Wyatt Davis, Ohio State
The Bills' interior offensive line has been a bit of a puzzle this year. Davis would stop the shuffling by securing the right guard spot for the next five years or more. He's powerful, smart, agile and the type of ass-kicker the Bills will love up front.

30. New Orleans Saints: LB Chazz Surratt, North Carolina
Demario Davis is among the Saints' most valuable players, but how much longer can he play? Finding a suitable replacement with three-down skills won't be easy, but Surratt has shown that and can slide into Dennis Allen's defense early on.

31. Green Bay Packers: WR Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
A wide receiver in Round 1?! It will happen, and Aaron Rodgers will rejoice. Bateman isn't a speedster, but he has a big frame, a massive catch radius and excellent yards after the catch ability.

32. Kansas City Chiefs: IOL Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
General manager Brett Veach will do two things no matter the cost: protect Patrick Mahomes and give him weapons to whom to throw. Last year's first-rounder, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, was a weapon. This year's will be a protection piece who will be a plug-and-play Pro Bowl candidate at guard.

   

The Scout's Report

—Justin Fields' draft stock is one of the hottest topics around the league. The Ohio State quarterback has jaw-dropping physical abilities, but against the best defenses he's faced, issues with decision-making and processing speed have been notable concerns. Fields' five interceptions against Indiana (one wasn't on him) and Northwestern will concern scouts. Is he trying to do too much? Is he seeing the field? Given the decline of Carson Wentz this year with similar issues, teams must thoroughly vet Fields' day-one ability and his aptitude for improvement. Fans shouldn't anoint or automatically insert Fields as the No. 2 quarterback in this class. Not yet, at least.

Al Goldis/Associated Press

—Florida tight end and lock for the John Mackey Award Kyle Pitts announced he will declare for the draft. A sure thing as a first-rounder, Pitts has a very good chance to be a top-10 pick. His easiest comparison is to Las Vegas Raider Darren Waller, who is having a dominant season and could have teams looking for copycats.

—One of the stars of the 2020 college football season, Jaelan Phillips has declared for the draft. Phillips has helped Miami fans forget that presumed first-rounder Gregory Rousseau opted out this year by recording eight sacks. At 6'5" and 255 pounds, Phillips has the tools and production to be a first-rounder.

—This summer, all the talk at tight end centered around Penn State's Pat Freiermuth. He made his plans official by declaring for the draft. Nicknamed "Baby Gronk," Freiermuth may not be as hot of a name as he was five months ago, but his play and ability as an in-line tight end will still draw interest in the first or early second round.

—The Panthers announced Monday that they fired GM Marty Hurney. Hurney was not new owner David Tepper's or new coach Matt Rhule's hire, and he had an expiring contract, so this was a formality more than anything. It's worth watching whom Tepper—one of the most respected owners in football—tabs to be the replacement. Outside of Jacksonville, a team with two first-round selections and plenty of salary-cap space, Carolina has the most attractive job given the respect Tepper and Rhule command plus the exciting young players (especially on defense) that have been added.

   

Parting Shots

1. Coach Fitz on the Rise

Teams looking for a new head coach should pay close attention to what Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald has done. Two appearances in the Big Ten title game in the last three years are just part of the story. He has the Wildcats consistently performing better than his conference rivals who don't have to match Northwestern's academic standards in recruiting, and he's developing players for the NFL.

There are several good head coaching candidates in the NFL, but if a team wants to go the college route, Fitzgerald should be near the top of the list.

   

2. Stock Up: DL Daviyon Nixon, Iowa

Why do players pop up late in the season—or after the season—and land with early-round grades? Most often, it's because they are first-year starters or not expected to declare. In the case of Iowa's Daviyon Nixon, an agent called to say they heard he was declaring and wanted a round grade on him. Something such as that sends me to the game film to watch the player and leads to asking around with area scouts, coaches and league contacts to see what their opinions are—and that combination of my evaluation plus league information mirrors what area scouts and college directors do in the NFL.

With Nixon, the word around the league was first-round potential. The tape, in my opinion, shows a first-rounder—there's no need to hedge by adding "potential." Nixon is fast, twitchy and the best interior penetrator of the defensive tackles I've seen this year. If he does declare, he'll be a top-25 player on my board.

   

3. Stock Down: CB Shaun Wade, Ohio State

A big part of scouting is eliminating perceptions about a player and really digging in to what they do well, who they are and what their potential is. With Ohio State's Shaun Wade—a player many were touting two years ago as the next first-rounder out of Columbus—it's time to acknowledge he's just not playing that well; and especially struggling against solid competition. Wade is a big name and plays for a premier program, but if we're evaluating his tape and not his helmet or name, we're talking about a Day 3 player.

   

4. Sleeper: RB Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota

Nati Harnik/Associated Press

Whether Mohamed Ibrahim will declare is beyond me, but he's a super talented player and one of the more fun running backs I've watched this year. At 5'10" and 210 pounds, he has some Nick Chubb to his build and power; and like Chubb, he hasn't added much in college as a receiver—but the potential is there to expand his all-around game. Ibrahim isn't a lock to enter, but if he does, he will be in the conversation as a top-10 back.

   

5. Player of the Week: RB Trey Sermon, Ohio State

If you set a single-game rushing record at Ohio State, you're doing something right. This is the home of Archie Griffin, Eddie George and Maurice Clarett, after all. But Trey Sermon, a transfer from Oklahoma whose career in Norman was saddled by injury, did it Saturday with 331 yards against Northwestern, including two touchdowns that were the difference in a game in which quarterback Justin Fields struggled. Sermon's injury history has to be evaluated, but as a pure runner, he is one of the five or six best in the class.

   

6. College Football Playoff

Alabama vs. Notre Dame. Clemson vs. Ohio State.

If that feels like rematches of last year, it's pretty dang close. But that's the nature of college football right now with a handful of powerhouses plus tier-two teams (such as LSU last year) that can rotate in and shake things up when they have historic talent on their rosters.

For scouts, these matchups are the most exciting college football has to offer. Justin Fields against the Clemson defensive line. Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne against the Ohio State front seven. Mac Jones and his all-world offensive supporting cast against a very good Notre Dame defense.

It may seem like we're on a path to another Alabama vs. Clemson game (which I'm fine with), but don't get caught sleeping on some great scouting opportunities in the semifinals.

   

7. Heisman Trophy

The Heisman Trophy will be awarded January 5, but ballots were due Monday. I'm not a Heisman voter, so I can share my ballot with you here. TL;DR: Just have the ceremony in Tuscaloosa, because it's an Alabama affair.

  1. RB Najee Harris, Alabama
  2. WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama
  3. QB Kyle Trask, Florida
  4. QB Mac Jones, Alabama

It's hard to pick one player from Alabama to list as the winner when all are deserving in their own way, but the year Najee Harris had should be rewarded. And remember, this is a season-long award. This isn't about who had the best December.

Harris' 27 touchdowns (24 rushing, three receiving) are his dominant stat to go along with 1,262 yards on 214 carries. When Alabama needed a win, he was the bell-cow. When the offense sputtered, he was the kick in the rear.

John Bazemore/Associated Press

DeVonta Smith is amazing, and he'll win the Fred Biletnikoff Award. Mac Jones has been flawless, and he'll win the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. But Harris deserves the Heisman.

   

8. Report Card: Jalen Hurts

The Philadelphia Eagles have something in Jalen Hurts. The rookie quarterback hasn't been perfect, but he has been better than Carson Wentz and is doing so with largely the same supporting cast. His ability to get through progressions faster, to take calculated risks while not turning the ball over and the energy he brings to the field are all a stark contrast to what we've seen from Wentz this year.

Wentz's contract has been reported on many times, and it's a gigantic mess, but the Eagles are better off right now with Hurts and must decide this offseason if they want to build around a young, inexpensive quarterback who has given them a shot of energy or the oft-injured, expensive 27-year-old who has at times lost his locker room.

To me it's an easy decision: Hurts is the guy.

   

9. So Long

On November 9, 2010, I sent an email to put my name on the radar after a few weeks of writing at Bleacher Report as an unpaid contributor. That email led them to look at my work and elevate me to a featured columnist with assignments, editors and more of a structured existence at a very early B/R.

In February 2011, while vacationing in San Francisco, I met up with B/R folks and learned the company wanted to hire me part-time to cover the NFL and NFL draft. I was elated. The monthly stipend was enough to cover my rent back in those days. But mostly it meant I was one step closer to realizing my dream of writing about the NFL draft as a career.

Things went fast after that.

May 2011: I quit my day job in marketing and social media to work on special projects and breaking news pieces.

August 2011: I was named a lead writer covering the NFL draft.

Since then it's been a dream for me to work with the amazing people at Bleacher Report. I filed this last column as the most-read author in site history and one of the longest-tenured employees. I made lifelong friends. I learned so much about writing, football, podcasting, working on camera and, more importantly, about loyalty, work ethic and passion.

I am lucky to have had this opportunity to entertain and educate in this space for the last decade. I do not take that lightly, and that was among the many things that made choosing to leave at the end of my contract one of the most difficult things I have ever done.

But it's time to move on and give this space to other writers. And without spending 1,000 words thanking the many people who need to be thanked, I'll leave my readers with this:

Whatever your dream is, it's obtainable. Work hard. Treat people well. Attack opportunities. That's the trick. It's difficult, but it's not hard.

As for me...

This isn't goodbye. It's see ya later.