2021 NFL Mock Draft: Predictions for Top Prospects Entering Championship Week

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2021

2021 NFL Mock Draft: Predictions for Top Prospects Entering Championship Week

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    One win.

    That's all that separates the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers from the Super Bowl following the divisional round of the 2021 NFL playoffs.

    Much more than that stands in the way of the Super Bowl for the majority of the rest of the league, and the fastest way to change that is with impressive drafting as teams look for their future stars and building blocks.

    With that in mind, here is a look at a mock first round for the 2021 NFL draft, as well as some key storylines as the event approaches.

2021 Mock Draft: 1st Round

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    Terrance Williams/Associated Press

    1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

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

    3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston Texans): Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

    4. Atlanta Falcons: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

    5. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU

    6. Philadelphia Eagles: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

    7. Detroit Lions: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

    8. Carolina Panthers: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

    9. Denver Broncos: Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan

    10. Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

    11. New York Giants: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

    12. San Francisco 49ers: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

    13. Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern

    14. Minnesota Vikings: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

    15. New England Patriots: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

    16. Arizona Cardinals: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

    17. Las Vegas Raiders: Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU

    18. Miami Dolphins: Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue

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

    20. Chicago Bears: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT/OG, USC

    21. Indianapolis Colts: Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama

    22. Tennessee Titans: Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami

    23. New York Jets (via Seattle Seahawks): Wyatt Davis, OG, Ohio State

    24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

    25. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Los Angeles Rams): Derion Kendrick, CB, Clemson

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

    27. Baltimore Ravens: Elijah Moore, WR, Mississippi

    28. New Orleans Saints: Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas

    29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Carlos Basham Jr., DE, Wake Forest

    30. Buffalo Bills: Azeez Ojulari, LB, Georgia 

    31. Green Bay Packers: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

    32. Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Jones II, DE, Pitt

    *Draft order via Tankathon.

The QB Race After Trevor Lawrence

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    It has felt like a foregone conclusion since before the 2020 college football season even started that Clemson's Trevor Lawrence would go No. 1 in this draft.

    The Tigers star won a national championship during his collegiate career, has enough athleticism to evade pass-rushers in the pocket and pick up yards when he scrambles, and he can make every throw with a strong and accurate arm.

    The bigger question is which quarterback goes after him, especially with teams such as the New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos and perhaps San Francisco 49ers in the market for a signal-caller of the future this offseason.

    Enter Ohio State's Justin Fields, BYU's Zach Wilson, North Dakota State's Trey Lance and maybe even Alabama's Mac Jones after a dominant run to the national championship.

    The thinking here is it will come down to Fields and Wilson, with some fair assumptions that the overwhelming talent around Jones elevated his numbers and at least an element of concern about the competition Lance faced while in college.

    Frankly, teams cannot go wrong with either one.

    Both Fields and Wilson can make plays with their legs either as a primary runner or when the pocket breaks down. They can fit throws through tight windows and hit on deep balls with impressive touch.

    Fields' incredible performance in the College Football Playoff when he threw for six touchdowns in a win over Clemson against a defense far more talented than any Wilson faced will give him the slight advantage, but don't be surprised if they are both impact starters for years to come.

Wide Receivers Everywhere

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    It is a testament to the transition of football at both the professional and collegiate level that wide receivers are now so much more valued than running backs, and this year's first round will feature a run on pass-catchers.

    This mock draft doesn't even have USC's Amon-Ra St. Brown, Florida's Kadarius Toney and LSU's Terrace Marshall Jr., who could all realistically go in the first round.

    Even without that trio, there are seven first-round wide receivers and tight end Kyle Pitts, who may as well be a wide receiver with his athleticism and speed in the open field. Pitts figures to be a nightmare matchup for the next decade in the NFL as someone who will be too quick for most linebackers and too big for most safeties.

    That Pitts went to Florida is appropriate because the start of the wide receivers will be all about the SEC.

    Alabama's DeVonta Smith won the Heisman Trophy and is arguably one of the best college players of all time, with multiple national championships and big-game performances to make him a household name. And he might not even be the best wide receiver from the Crimson Tide thanks to the presence of Jaylen Waddle.

    Still, the prediction here is LSU's Ja'Marr Chase is the first pass-catcher to hear his name called on draft day.

    He will go to the Cincinnati Bengals and team up with a familiar face in quarterback Joe Burrow. If they can rediscover some of the magic they had with the Tigers in the NFL, the rest of the AFC North may be in trouble.

Star Power Near the End of the 1st Round

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    When fans think of star power in the NFL draft, they often envision the big-name quarterbacks going in the top 10 and serving as the franchise cornerstone for years.

    And there will be plenty of that in 2021 with Lawrence, Fields and more hearing their names called.

    Still, those playoff teams drafting near the end of the first round will be choosing from some familiar faces for college football fans. After all, the closing stretch of the opening round could be loaded with playmakers from the College Football Playoff.

    This mock draft has Alabama offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood, Alabama running back Najee Harris, Ohio State offensive lineman Wyatt Davis, Clemson cornerback Derion Kendrick, Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave all going between picks Nos. 21-31.

    That is one way to keep casual fans interested in this year's draft, and some of the best teams in the NFL will have potential stars in the making who are accustomed to playing in pressure-packed scenarios and can slide into the lineup right away.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers were missing a consistent running game down the stretch of the season, and Harris is someone who can immediately change that. The Green Bay Packers—even as explosive as they are—do not have a reliable No. 2 receiver after Davante Adams, but Olave could be that player next year.

    The excitement won't end with the first 10 or 15 picks this year, as some of college football's most notable players will be available in the closing stretch of the first round.

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