2021 NFL Mock Draft: B/R's Post-Regular-Season Predictions

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJanuary 4, 2021

2021 NFL Mock Draft: B/R's Post-Regular-Season Predictions

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    The 2020 NFL regular season is in the books. And much like the year itself, it was a wild one.

    For the first time in NFL history, 14 teams will play on when the postseason begins next week. This year, only two teams (the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers) will be taking the Wild Card Round off.

    Of course, 18 more teams will be taking a lot more than just next week off. Whether it's a miserable Jacksonville Jaguars team that lost 15 games in a row or a 10-win Miami Dolphins team done in by a Week 17 loss to the Buffalo Bills, the season has ended for over half the league.

    Those teams will take a moment to lick their wounds, but the NFL is a perpetual motion machine. Soon, the 2020 season will be relegated to history, and it will be time to look ahead to the 2021 NFL Scouting Combine, free agency and the NFL draft, which will begin in Cleveland on April 29.

    As NFL teams begin preparing for the draft in earnest, the draftnik community will do the same by doing what it does best: predicting how the first round will play out in a mock draft.

    It's a pretty safe bet that just about everyone is going to get the first selection right.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    The term "generational prospect" has lost much of its meaning in recent years, largely because it gets used to describe at least one player in every NFL draft class.

    However, with Trevor Lawrence, the shoe fits.

    Lawrence is the biggest slam-dunk, no-doubt No. 1 overall pick since—well, since Joe Burrow last year. But while Burrow had just one huge season at LSU, Lawrence has been carving up ACC defenses for the past three years.

    In both 2018 and 2019, Lawrence topped 3,000 passing yards and threw for at least 30 touchdowns. He undoubtedly would have again in 2020 had he not missed time after testing positive for COVID-19.

    The Jaguars admittedly haven't had much success with first-round quarterbacks in recent years. But this isn't Blake Bortles or Blaine Gabbert.

    Lawrence is athletic. He's accurate. He has a cannon of an arm. And he's a proven winner.

    This is the kind of pick that can define a franchise for a decade or more.

2. New York Jets: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    More than a few fans of the New York Jets were not pleased by the team's recent winning streak—a streak that cost the team a chance to draft Trevor Lawrence.

    But if Friday's Sugar Bowl semifinal was any indication, the consolation prize under center isn't so bad this year.

    All Ohio State's Justin Fields did against Lawrence and Clemson was throw for 385 yards and a Sugar Bowl-record six touchdowns. He was ridiculously accurate on deep throws. Per the game telecast, he completed six of nine attempts of 20 yards or more for 233 yards and three scores.

    Two hundred and thirty-three divided by six is...a lot.

    Yes, Fields struggled a bit in the Big Ten Championship Game. But it was an incredibly strange season in Columbus, and he still posted some impressive per-game numbers.

    Fields has the mobility modern NFL teams covet. His arm strength certainly isn't in question. And after two years as the quarterback for one of the highest-profile teams in college football, he's used to the spotlight.

    Gang Green could do a lot worse.

3. Miami Dolphins (From Houston Texans): Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    It's been a while since we saw LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase on the playing field. But you can bet the rent NFL teams haven't forgotten the havoc he wrought on college football in 2019.

    As the top receiver for Joe Burrow and the Tigers last season, Chase piled up some truly ridiculous numbers. He caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards, giving him a gaudy average of 21.2 yards per grab. He also found the end zone 20 times and won the Biletnikoff Award as the top wide receiver in the nation.

    Look at the phenomenal rookie season Justin Jefferson had with the Minnesota Vikings. Then consider that Jefferson played second fiddle to Chase in Baton Rouge.

    The Miami Dolphins are in something of a unique position. It's not often a team that won double-digit games the preceding year gets an opportunity to add an instant-impact player with a top-five pick.

    Pairing Chase with DeVante Parker would give the Dolphins a formidable one-two punch at wide receiver, and that could only help the development of Tua Tagovailoa in his second season.

4. Atlanta Falcons: Zach Wilson, QB, Brigham Young

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    George Frey/Associated Press

    The Atlanta Falcons are at a crossroads. They have a former NFL MVP on the roster in quarterback Matt Ryan. And at 35, he should still have at least a few years of solid play left in the tank.

    But the Falcons will also be welcoming a new head coach and a new general manager in 2021, and this is a team that doesn't often (at least in recent years) pick in the top five.

    The opportunity is there for the Falcons to look to the future under center, and the franchise would be wise to take it.

    In 2020, Zach Wilson had himself a year at Brigham Young.

    He was fantastic as a junior, racking up 3,699 passing yards and 33 touchdown passes with just three interceptions. He also showed an ability to extend plays and gain yardage with his legs, adding 254 yards and 10 scores on the ground.

    There are pundits who feel that Wilson, and not Justin Fields, is the No. 2 prospect at quarterback in 2021. Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski had Wilson coming off the board ahead of Fields in his recent mock draft.

    Wilson absolutely has the potential to be a solid starter at the NFL level. The Falcons also wouldn't need to rush the youngster onto the field.

    At least not until 2022, when moving on from Ryan isn't as costly relative to the salary cap.

5. Cincinnati Bengals: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    If Oregon tackle Penei Sewell makes it to the fifth overall pick, then Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin may pull a hammy in his race to the podium to get the pick in.

    After it invested 2019's No. 1 overall pick in quarterback Joe Burrow, there is absolutely zero question what Cincinnati's biggest offseason priority is: strengthening an offensive line that led the AFC in sacks allowed in 2020.

    There's also no doubt Sewell is the best tackle in this year's draft class even after the 6'6" 325-pounder opted out of the 2019 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The Outland Trophy winner as college football's top offensive lineman in 2019, Sewell is the complete package. He's long, powerful and athletic and displays excellent technique. Over 926 snaps in 2019, he didn't allow a single sack.

    This is a dream scenario for the Bengals, allowing them to land arguably the best player available at any position who just so happens to play the position they need most.

6. Philadelphia Eagles: Micah Parsons, ILB, Penn State

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    Barry Reeger/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia Eagles suffered through a miserable 2020 season that exposed numerous flaws on the roster. The wide receiver position badly needs an infusion of young talent, and the addition of veteran cornerback Darius Slay did little to solve their issues in the secondary.

    The linebacker position is also a mess, and while off-ball linebacker isn't generally considered a premium position, there's a player available at that spot who's more than worth a top-10 pick.

    Penn State's Micah Parsons is everything 21st-century NFL teams want in a linebacker as a powerful 6'3", 245-pounder who has sideline-to-sideline range and can rush the passer. Before opting out of the 2020 campaign, he piled up 109 total tackles, 14 tackles for loss, five sacks and four forced fumbles in 2019 on the way to being named a consensus All-American.

    There's good depth at cornerback and wide receiver in 2021, which should allow the Eagles to target talented players at positions of need on Day 2.

    But there isn't another prospect at linebacker like Parsons in the 2021 class.

7. Detroit Lions: Gregory Rousseau, Edge, Miami (FL)

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    The Detroit Lions are on the cusp of yet another rebuild. There will be a new head coach and general manager in 2021. The team has needs all over the roster on both sides of the ball.

    If a top-tier quarterback falls to No. 7, Detroit could look to turn the page on the Matthew Stafford era. With Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. both about to hit free agency, the wide receiver position could also be in need of a complete makeover.

    But one of Detroit's top priorities has to be upgrading a pass rush that has ranked toward the bottom of the league in sacks each of the past two seasons.

    Gregory Rousseau of the Miami Hurricanes is another of the high-end draft prospects who elected to sit out the 2020 season over COVID-19 concerns. But back in 2019, the 6'7", 265-pounder was one of the most productive edge-rushers in college football with 54 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks.

    He's not a prospect on the level of Myles Garrett or Chase Young, but Rousseau would add pop to a Detroit pass rush that desperately needs it.

8. Carolina Panthers: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers faded badly over the second half of the 2020 season, in part because of a pass defense that had all kinds of trouble with an NFC South loaded with elite quarterback talent.

    Alabama's Patrick Surtain II would go a long way toward solidifying the back end in Charlotte.

    Surtain has an NFL pedigree. In addition to playing at a school that has sent innumerable defensive backs on to successful professional careers, his father (and namesake) played in the league for over a decade.

    But the 6'2", 202-pounder brings a lot more to the table than just a recognizable name. He has the length many NFL teams crave in a cornerback, good speed and plus technique. He's adept at both zone and man coverage, and as evidenced by his 76 tackles over the past two seasons, he isn't afraid to get dirty in run support.

    The Panthers don't have a shutdown corner on their roster, but Surtain has the potential to be one.

9. Denver Broncos: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    A lot can (and will) change between now and April 29 with respect to this year's quarterback prospects. We know Trevor Lawrence is the top prospect, but the NFL Scouting Combine and pro days will no doubt impact how things shake out from there.

    We also know (if the 2020 season was any indication) that John Elway's search for a long-term answer at quarterback continues.

    When the 2020 season began, Mac Jones of Alabama wasn't on the radar as a high-end draft prospect, and it can't be denied that he has benefitted from playing in a loaded Tide offense. But he just laid a beatdown on an overmatched Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff semifinal, and the strong-armed 6'3", 214-pounder is a Heisman finalist who owns the highest passing efficiency rating of any quarterback in the nation.

    Per Pro Football Focus, Jones' 2020 season produced the highest grade by any quarterback since the site started charting collegiate players. 

10. Dallas Cowboys: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    For years, the offensive line was a strength for the Dallas Cowboys. In 2020, it became readily apparent that was no longer the case. Roster attrition and injuries have turned the offensive front in Dallas from a strength to a weakness.

    It's a weakness the Cowboys need to address early in this year's draft.

    Some pundits believe Rashawn Slater of Northwestern might just be the top prospect at his position in the 2021 class. He isn't a big tackle at just 6'3" and 305 pounds. But he plays bigger than his size thanks to excellent technique and a good old-fashioned mean streak.

    Slater could help Dallas in more than one way. If Tyron Smith is able to return to form after an injury-marred 2020 campaign, the incoming rookie could kick to the right side or move inside. But if Smith's best days are behind him, then Slater would offer a plan of succession on Dak Prescott's blind side.

11. New York GIants: Kwity Paye, Edge, Michigan

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    The New York Giants are a solid defensive football team. But as good as Big Blue's defense is, the team lacks a consistent pass-rusher off the edge. Their top two players in sacks in 2020 (Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams) were both interior defenders.

    That makes edge-rusher a viable consideration with their first pick, and there's a player available here who has sky-high athletic potential.

    Granted, the stats for Michigan edge-rusher Kwity Paye have never really matched his potential since he had just two sacks in 2020 and has just 10.5 over the past three seasons combined. But the 6'4", 272-pounder has a tantalizing blend of power and speed, and given his athletic abilities, he's a player whose stock will all but certainly rise as we move through the scouting combine and into pro days.

    The Washington Football Team has the best defense in the NFC East, largely because of a pass rush that can generate pressure both up the gut and off the edge.

    With the addition of Paye, the Giants wouldn't be far behind.

12. San Francisco 49ers: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    The 2020 season was a disaster for the San Francisco 49ers. But the silver lining to all the injuries that derailed their NFC title defense is a top-15 draft pick that will enable them to add a player who can help right away.

    When at full strength (or close to it), the 49ers aren't a team with a lot of holes on the roster. But with veteran cornerback Richard Sherman set to hit free agency in the offseason, the back end of the defense could have one.

    At 6'2" 207 pounds, Caleb Farley of Virginia Tech has the length to hang with big-bodied receivers. But he also has the speed of a smaller cornerback, plus ball skills (four interceptions in 2019) and an understanding of offensive concepts from playing quarterback in high school.

    Had Farley not opted out of the 2020 season due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, he may well have challenged Patrick Surtain II of Alabama to be the first corner taken in the 2021 draft.

13. Los Angeles Chargers: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT, USC

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    It appears the Los Angeles Chargers found their quarterback of the future a year ago in sixth overall pick Justin Herbert.

    Now, the priority needs to be adding talent around the young quarterback—or, in the case of a 2021 offseason in which three of L.A.'s five starters on the offensive line are set to hit free agency, adding talent in front of him.

    That Alijah Vera-Tucker was one of the best offensive tackles in the nation is impressive in its own right. But it's even more impressive when you consider the 6'4", 315-pounder was also a standout for the Trojans at guard.

    Equally adept at pass protection as he is opening holes on the ground, Vera-Tucker is athletic, technically sound and versatile.

    He'd offer an immediate boost on the offensive line in front of Herbert.

14. Minnesota Vikings: Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Given that Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer recently called the 2020 iteration of the Vikings defense "the worst he's ever had," it's a fair bet the team will focus on that side of the ball in the offseason.

    It's a unit with issues from front to back. The Vikings were ranked near the bottom of the league in sacks this year and fielded a pass defense that sat a lot closer to the bottom of the NFL than the top.

    It's the former that the Vikings will look to address in the first round of this mock draft.

    The return of edge-rusher Danielle Hunter in 2021 will no doubt help the pass rush. But after first trading for and then trading away Yannick Ngakoue, the Vikings don't have much behind him.

    There might not be a player in all of college football who improved more from 2019 to 2020 than Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon, who went from a rotational role in 2019 to being the only player in the nation who was a finalist for the Outland Trophy and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.

    The 6'3", 305-pounder was a fixture in opposing backfields in 2020, notching 5.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss on the way to being named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

15. New England Patriots: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    For two decades, quarterback was not a pressing concern for the New England Patriots.

    That is most assuredly no longer the case.

    Cam Newton's tenure as the team's starting quarterback ended with the Patriots missing the postseason for the first time in over a decade. The only person who thinks Jarrett Stidham can be a viable NFL starter is his mother—and even she isn't sure.

    North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance isn't a sure thing, either. As impressive as his numbers were in 2019, they came against FCS competition. And the lone game he played in 2020 wasn't great: 15-of-30, 149 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against Central Arkansas.

    However, that one interception was one more than Lance threw during all of the 2019 season, and Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network compared him to Andrew Luck and Dak Prescott after watching the Central Arkansas game:

    "When it comes to size, arm strength, athletic ability and competitiveness -- I still see a lot of Luck in Lance's game. I just think the former Colts QB was a little more accurate. Today, Lance reminded me more of Dak Prescott. So, he's somewhere in the range of Luck (former No. 1 overall pick and four-time Pro Bowl selectee) to Prescott (two-time Pro Bowl selectee and former Offensive Rookie of the Year.)"

16. Arizona Cardinals: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    The Arizona Cardinals missed the playoffs in 2020, but the team still took a step forward in Kyler Murray's second season at quarterback. Continuing that positive momentum in 2021 means building around the young signal-caller.

    The Cardinals have talent at running back in Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds, a solid wide receiver corps headed by DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk and a decent offensive line.

    But with all due respect, the team's tight ends aren't scaring anyone.

    The addition of Florida's Kyle Pitts could change that.

    Pitts is the sort of tight end NFL teams salivate over in 2021. In many respects, he's more wide receiver than tight end as a 6'6", 240-pound pass-catcher with soft hands and excellent speed for a player his size.

    He's a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Put a linebacker on him and he will run right past him. Put a cornerback on him and he'll use his lanky frame to box out like a power forward going up for a rebound.

    The Cardinals are already difficult to defend on the perimeter. Add Pitts and the middle of the field would open up while making it that much harder to use safety help on Hopkins.

17. Las Vegas Raiders: Azeez Ojulari, Edge. Georgia

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    The Las Vegas Raiders have already invested considerable draft capital on the pass rush in recent years. However, since they ranked near the bottom of the league in sacks once again in 2020, that investment hasn't paid off.

    That can't stop the Raiders from going back to the well again in 2021, though, because if the team is ever going to challenge the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West, it must get better at pressuring the quarterback.

    The 2021 edge-rusher class isn't great. But that's not to say there aren't players available who have shown an affinity for making opposing quarterbacks miserable.

    Over the past two seasons, Azeez Ojulari of Georgia, a 6'3" 240-pounder, tallied 17.5 tackles for loss and 15 sacks. Three of those sacks came as part of his team's comeback win over Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl.

    Ojulari also offers some scheme versatility in that he has the wheels to play outside linebacker but can also rush the passer with his hand in the ground in sub-packages.

    With the Raiders preparing to hire a new defensive coordinator in the offseason, that could come in handy.

18. Miami Dolphins: Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    This is an interesting spot for the Miami Dolphins in this mock draft.

    Miami has already added pop to the passing game by using the pick obtained from the Houston Texans on LSU wideout Ja'Marr Chase. There isn't another position that stands out as a clear need the Dolphins have to address.

    It's a prime spot for them to trade down, especially with another pick coming up early in Round 2.

    But while the Dolphins defense was a pleasant surprise in 2020, NFL teams are always in the market for pass-rushers. That makes Joseph Ossai of Texas an interesting target here.

    A 6'4" 253-pounder who amassed 55 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2020, Ossai earned All-American honors as both a defensive end and a linebacker this season.

    That versatility would no doubt appeal to Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, whose defensive scheme uses multiple fronts. He could also offer an excellent complement to the emergent Emmanuel Ogbah in Miami's pass rush.

19. Washington Football Team: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

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    Matt Gentry/Associated Press

    The Washington Football Team has a lot of work to do on the offensive side of the ball. With Dwayne Haskins Jr. gone, the team lacks a long-term solution under center. Whoever is playing quarterback is precariously short on receiving talent outside of Terry McLaurin.

    But the top five quarterback prospects are all already off the board here, and as Washington showed with McLaurin, it's possible to land an impact receiver on the second day of the draft.

    That could lead Washington to build from the inside out by fortifying an offensive line in need of an anchor.

    At 6'5" and 314 pounds, Christian Darrisaw of Virginia Tech has prototypical size and length for an NFL tackle prospect. A ferocious run-blocker who has been a starter since his freshman year, he needs some work in the passing game, but that can be said about most O-line prospects coming out of college.

    It might not be a sexy pick, but NFL teams that add talented offensive linemen rarely regret it.

20. Chicago Bears: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears are already thin at the wide receiver position behind veteran Allen Robinson II. And since he's about to hit free agency, they could be about to get that much thinner.

    If Robinson does leave the Windy City, wide receiver would surge to the head of Chicago's offseason needs. And even if the Bears bring back the 27-year-old, the team needs to improve the complementary passing-game weapons around him.

    Enter Alabama's Jaylen Waddle.

    As great as DeVonta Smith has been for the Crimson Tide in 2020, it can be argued that Waddle was even better before a broken ankle ended his season. He played in five games, averaging a ridiculous 22.3 yards per reception. During each of the four full games in which the 5'10" 182-pounder played, he had at least 120 receiving yards.

    There isn't a wideout in the 2021 class with more game-breaking ability—or a higher NFL ceiling.

21. Jacksonville Jaguars (from LA Rams): Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    In this mock draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars have already procured their franchise quarterback in Trevor Lawrence.

    Now it's a matter of putting the pick obtained in the Jalen Ramsey trade to work keeping Lawrence upright.

    Notre Dame made the College Football Playoff in 2020, largely because of one of the best offensive lines in the nation, and the anchor of that line was tackle Liam Eichenberg. The 6'6" 302-pounder isn't the biggest or most athletic prospect at his position. But he is one of the most NFL-ready, and according to Pro Football Focus, he didn't allow a sack on almost 1,200 pass-blocking snaps over two-plus seasons in South Bend.

    That stoutness in pass protection should hold quite a bit of appeal for a Jags team that allowed 38 sacks in 2020, especially with the franchise about to hand the reins over to a rookie.

22. Indianapolis Colts: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    First off, we're going to start with an assumption that Philip Rivers will be back in Indianapolis next year. The Colts don't pick high enough to go the rookie route under center, and he played well enough to get a second year with the team.

    Assuming that's the case, the 2021 draft will be more about reloading than rebuilding for the Colts. And with 31-year-old T.Y. Hilton heading into free agency, wide receiver is a priority for the team.

    From a quick look at Chris Ballard's picks as general manager of the Colts, it's clear he values steak over sizzle. So it would make sense for him to tab the wide receiver who just had the beefiest season in the nation.

    Alabama's DeVonta Smith isn't the biggest or fastest receiver in this year's class. But after sailing past 100 catches and 1,500 yards while tying the SEC single-season record with 20 touchdowns, he is expected to be awarded the 2020 Heisman Trophy.

    He just gets it done. And as arguably the most NFL-ready of this year's first-round receivers, he would be well-positioned to help the Colts right away.

23. Cleveland Browns: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns are coming off the franchise's most successful season since rejoining the NFL in 1999. There's more optimism on the shores of Lake Erie than there has been in, quite literally, decades.

    But while the Browns are getting better, there are still areas of weakness on the roster, especially on defense.

    The linebacker spot was a problem for the Browns throughout the 2020 season. It's an area where Cleveland could use a jolt of athleticism, physicality and range.

    Notre Dame's Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah checks all those boxes.

    The 2020 Butkus Award winner as college football's top linebacker and the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Owusu-Koramoah piled up 62 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception for the Irish. The 6'1" 215-pounder is just the sort of sideline-to-sideline player NFL clubs covet, and he's just as adept in pass coverage as he is at stuffing the run.

    He'd be the team's best linebacker from the moment he stepped on the field.

24. Tennessee Titans: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Normally, the draft becomes less about filling needs and more about adding the best player available by the time you get this late in Round 1. Teams don't generally have significant success with a glaring hole on the roster.

    The Tennessee Titans are an exception, though. They're a good team, but taking a step forward in 2021 will require doing something about a secondary that was roasted with regularity this season.

    South Carolina's Jaycee Horn doesn't quite have the wheels of Alabama's Patrick Surtain II or Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley. But the 6'1", 200-pounder is hardly slow, and his size and physicality make him a prototypical boundary cornerback in the NFL.

    The Titans have Malcolm Butler outside and Adoree' Jackson in the slot, but the outside spot opposite Butler has been a revolving door of blah in 2020.

    Inserting Horn into that spot would go a long way toward solidifying the back end in Nashville.

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Yes, that's right: a running back in Round 1.

    It's true that using a first-rounder on a running back has fallen out of favor in today's NFL. But as we saw last year with the Kansas City Chiefs and Clyde Edwards-Helaire of LSU, teams in win-now mode will still consider spending a first in the backfield.

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are definitely in win-now mode. And while they have a crowded backfield with Ronald Jones II, Leonard Fournette and youngster Ke'Shawn Vaughn, none of them have risen up to stake a claim as "the guy."

    Also, none of those running backs are Najee Harris.

    There's nothing the 6'2", 230-pounder doesn't do well. In each of the past two seasons, he has topped 1,200 rushing yards and scored at least 13 touchdowns. He has found the end zone a gaudy 24 times on the ground in 2020 and showed his receiving chops with 36 catches.

    The addition of Harris would make an already-potent Tampa offense that much more formidable.

    Tom Brady would approve.

26. Baltimore Ravens: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

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    Stacy Bengs/Associated Press

    The Baltimore Ravens could go a couple of directions early in the 2021 NFL draft.

    With Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee and Tyus Bowser all set to hit free agency, adding an edge-rusher could be a priority. But with Joseph Assai coming off the board earlier, the Ravens will instead look to bolster the passing-game weapons available to Lamar Jackson.

    The Ravens have an outstanding run game and a high-end tight end in Mark Andrews, but a wideout corps led by Marquise Brown has been inconsistent. They need a bigger receiver to complement Brown's speed.

    Say a wideout who's about 6'2" and 210 pounds.

    After exploding for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns on 60 catches last year, Rashod Bateman's numbers dropped in 2020, largely because the Minnesota offense struggled as a whole. But he still managed to surpass 100 receiving yards in three of five games, and his physicality and ability to play both on the boundary and in the slot makes him an intriguing prospect.

27. New York Jets (from Seattle Seahawks): Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Sometimes things just fall into place.

    The New York Jets have two picks in Round 1 courtesy of the trade that sent safety Jamal Adams to the Seahawks. The first was used on the quarterback the Jets hope will lead the team back to respectability in the AFC East. The second will be used on receiving talent for that young quarterback, and it comes in the form of a familiar face.

    Ohio State's Chris Olave is not the fastest or most athletic wide receiver in the 2021 NFL draft. But there isn't a better route-runner in the group than the 6'1", 188-pounder who just lit up Clemson for 132 yards and two scores on six catches in the Sugar Bowl.

    Thanks to his polish, Olave has as much potential to make an immediate impact as any wideout in the 2021 draft. The fact he has been Justin Fields' favorite target the last two years in Columbus is a nice bonus.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers have a problem.

    They must address the quarterback position at some point. But they also usually pick toward the back end of Round 1, and that makes drafting a passer here problematic since five signal-callers are already gone.

    So instead of looking to the future, the Steelers should choose to expand the present just a bit. And with Alejandro Villanueva headed to free agency after a disappointing 2020 campaign, that means fortifying the offensive line in front of Ben Roethlisberger.

    At 6'7", Samuel Cosmi of Texas has the length professional teams covet at the tackle position. But he is more than just a tall drink of water. He has outstanding athleticism that shines through in pass protection, and with a little time to refine his technique, the 309-pounder has the potential to develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle.

29. New Orleans Saints: Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU

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    Michael Woods/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Saints are in a similar boat as the Pittsburgh Steelers. The future under center looms over the team, but picking in the back end of Round 1 doesn't afford a real opportunity to draft an heir for Drew Brees.

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. Taysom Hill. We know.

    However, a few potential options are available here, and they could help the Saints wedge their championship window open a bit longer, including a talented youngster at a position where New Orleans lacks depth.

    The addition of veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was a boost to the Saints in 2020. But with Michael Thomas battling injuries for much of the year, it became clear New Orleans is still pretty thin at the position.

    The LSU Tigers had a miserable season, but Terrace Marshall Jr. did his part. The 6'4", 200-pounder averaged 15.2 yards per grab on his 48 catches and found the end zone 10 times.

    Marshall would provide the Saints with a physical presence on the boundary and in the red zone, and he has the talent to thrive in the single coverage he'd see playing opposite Thomas.

30. Buffalo Bills: Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State

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    Gary McCullough/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Bills are an ascending franchise. They appear well-positioned to be serious contenders in the AFC for the next several years.

    However, staying on top can sometimes be even harder than getting there. It means staying ahead of the roster attrition that occurs annually in the NFL and addressing holes before they become the sorts of weaknesses that can derail a Super Bowl run.

    For the Bills in 2021, that means looking to strengthen a secondary that could watch Levi Wallace and veteran Josh Norman leave in free agency.

    Even if one of those players (preferably Wallace) returns, there is no such thing as too many cornerbacks, especially given that Buffalo's pass defense was its strength on that side of the ball.

    Asante Samuel Jr. certainly has an NFL pedigree since his father was a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champion. But the 5'10", 184-pounder is a talented player in his own right as an athletic corner with outstanding ball skills who thrived in man coverage at Florida State.

31. Green Bay Packers: Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    In 2020, most mock drafts forecasted the Green Bay Packers taking a wide receiver in Round 1.

    That didn't happen. They instead stunned fans and pundits alike by trading up to select Utah State quarterback Jordan Love.

    They're unlikely to go the quarterback route again in 2021. Call it a hunch. But their need for a dependable secondary option opposite Davante Adams at wideout is still there.

    It's a need Purdue's Rondale Moore could fill quite nicely.

    Moore isn't a big receiver—calling the youngster 5'10" is stretching things—but he's a threat to score every time he touches the ball as a shifty dynamo of a player with 4.33-second speed and great hands.

    Frankly, by the time the scouting combine and Purdue's pro day come and go, he may get drafted much higher than this. His wheels and athleticism are made for such events.

    But if Moore is available at the end of Round 1, he'd be quite the weapon for Aaron Rodgers in Titletown.

32. Kansas City Chiefs: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs used the final pick of the 2020 draft on LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who went on to have a significant impact for the best team in the AFC.

    Drafting Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins with the 32nd pick in 2021 would give the Chiefs another youngster who could immediately take on a substantial role.

    Heading into the season, Collins was hardly a name being attached to the first round of the NFL draft. But that was before the 6'4", 260-pounder piled up 54 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles on the way to being named the Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner as college football's best defensive player.

    The ability to play pass coverage is more important than ever for linebackers in the NFL. Per Pro Football Focus, Collins had the position's highest grade in coverage since 2014 during his 2020 campaign.

    The Chiefs have been looking to get better at inside linebacker for some time. Pairing Willie Gay Jr. and Collins would achieve that goal—and then some.