NFL Mock Draft 2021: Post-CFP Championship Predictions for 1st-Round Prospects
The 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship is done after Alabama cruised past Ohio State 52-24 on Monday night at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.
The event was one last opportunity for the top stars from the Crimson Tide and Buckeyes to impress NFL talent evaluators on the field before the predraft process gets underway.
With the COVID-19 pandemic gaining a foothold in the United States, the buildup to the 2020 NFL draft was significantly hampered, and this year may be no different.
Based on what we know now, here's a projection for the first round and three questions that will linger over the coming months.
2021 Mock Draft: First Round
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
2. New York Jets: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
3. Miami Dolphins (via Texans): DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
4. Atlanta Falcons: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU
6. Philadelphia Eagles: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
7. Detroit Lions: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
8. Carolina Panthers: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
9. Denver Broncos: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
10. Dallas Cowboys: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
11. New York Giants: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
12. San Francisco 49ers: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
14. Minnesota Vikings: Gregory Rousseau, DE, Vikings
15. New England Patriots: Elijah Moore, WR, Mississippi
16. Arizona Cardinals: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
17. Las Vegas Raiders: Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami
18. Miami Dolphins: Wyatt Davis, OG, Ohio State
19. Washington Football Team: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT/OG, USC
20. Chicago Bears: Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
21. Indianapolis Colts: Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
22. Tennessee Titans: Patrick Jones II, DE, Pitt
23. New York Jets (via Seahawks): Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Rams): Derion Kendrick, CB, Clemson
26. Cleveland Browns: Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
28. Baltimore Ravens: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
29. New Orleans Saints: Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
30. Buffalo Bills: Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri
31. Green Bay Packers: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
32. Kansas City Chiefs: Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State
Draft order via Tankathon
Did Justin Fields Solidify Himself as the No. 2 QB in the Playoff?
Barring an unforeseen development, Trevor Lawrence will be the first name off the board to the Jacksonville Jaguars. When it comes to the second-best quarterback available, though, the situation is a little less clear.
Justin Fields closed out the regular season by throwing for 313 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in his final two games. Ohio State cruised past Michigan State but labored against Northwestern in the Big Ten championship and needed 331 rushing yards from Trey Sermon to seal the victory.
Fields' draft stock wasn't cratering, but he was leaving the door wide open for BYU's Zach Wilson or North Dakota State's Trey Lance to overtake him as the No. 2 QB behind Lawrence.
Then came the Sugar Bowl as the Buckeyes star went 22-of-28 for 385 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. He also ran for 42 yards on eight carries.
His numbers from the CFP title game (17-of-33 for 194 yards, one touchdown) were well below that, but they may not be held against him too much because of how great Alabama was.
Writing for B/R in December, Matt Miller compared Fields to Dallas Cowboys signal-caller Dak Prescott but spoke to a scout who had some reservations about his NFL readiness.
Once again, the predraft process will be adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the NFL Scouting Combine is even "questionable for this winter," with a variety of alternatives on the table.
That could make it difficult for players to climb significantly up draft boards. You have to figure Fields is the No. 2 QB for most of the teams in a position to add him this spring.
Does Anybody Swing a Major Trade?
Heading into the 2012 NFL draft, Andrew Luck was the consensus No. 1 quarterback on the board, and it's anybody's guess as to what it would've taken to get the top pick away from the Indianapolis Colts.
After the Jaguars, none of the New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins or Cincinnati Bengals is in desperate need of a quarterback this year to the point where that's the obvious position to target. That sets up the possibility for somebody to trade way up in order to take Fields, Wilson or Lance.
The Jets and Falcons are in an especially strong bargaining position because they can plausibly convey the notion they intend to take a quarterback themselves. New York might want to ship Sam Darnold out and start over, while Atlanta could position a long-term successor for 35-year-old Matt Ryan.
If you don't swap picks or move ahead of them, then the quarterback you covet might be gone.
The Chicago Bears traded the Nos. 3, 67 and 111 picks and a 2018 third-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers to select Mitchell Trubisky. Some franchise in the top five stands to cash out if it's willing to travel back in the first round.
Will Opting Out Matter?
It's one thing for a star player to opt out of a bowl game. In most cases, the player in question has three—maybe four—years of work from which talent evaluators can make a judgment.
This season is an exceptional case given how many players opted out amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Oregon's Penei Sewell, LSU's Ja'Marr Chase and Penn State's Micah Parsons are among the most notable names who didn't take the field at all.
To answer the above question, probably not for the players who were considered nailed-on top-10 picks with the 2019 season completed. If anything, opting out might have helped them since there was less tape to scrutinize.
The better examples to watch will be the likes of Asante Samuel Jr., Terrace Marshall Jr., Gregory Rousseau, Rashawn Slater and Caleb Farley. They all had room to improve their stock and didn't have the chance to further prove themselves.
The overarching question coming out of this draft is whether opting out of a traditional season becomes more normalized. If your goal is to make it to the NFL and you're already projected to be a high draft pick, then there may not be much downside to sitting out a year and working exclusively on your game.