NFL Mock Draft 2021: 1st-Round Projections for Most Exalted Prospects

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IFebruary 13, 2021

NFL Mock Draft 2021: 1st-Round Projections for Most Exalted Prospects

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    As the April 29 start date draws nearer, hype and anticipation will continue to build for the 2021 NFL draft. There are a ton of talented college prospects who will soon be taking their games to the professional level. But where will they be heading to start their new careers?

    One projection seems unlikely to change: Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence should be going to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the No. 1 overall pick. Beyond that, it's not clear how the seven-round draft will unfold in Cleveland.

    For some former college stars, it takes some time to adjust to the NFL level. But there are others who make the jump and have immediate impacts during their rookie seasons.

    Here's a projection for how the first round of this year's draft could unfold, followed by a closer look at several of the most exciting players in the class.

1st-Round Mock Draft

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    JASON DECROW/Associated Press

    1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

    2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

    3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston Texans): DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

    4. Atlanta Falcons: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

    5. Cincinnati Bengals: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

    6. Philadelphia Eagles: Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU

    7. Detroit Lions: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

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

    9. Denver Broncos: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

    10. Dallas Cowboys: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern

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

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

    13. Los Angeles Chargers: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

    14. Minnesota Vikings: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT/OG, USC

    15. New England Patriots: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

    16. Arizona Cardinals: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

    17. Las Vegas Raiders: Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami

    18. Miami Dolphins: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame

    19. Washington Football Team: Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida

    20. Chicago Bears: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State

    21. Indianapolis Colts: Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan

    22. Tennessee Titans: Azeez Ojulari, LB, Georgia

    23. New York Jets (via Seattle Seahawks): Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

    24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Zaven Collins, LB/DE, Tulsa

    25. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Los Angeles Rams): Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington

    26. Cleveland Browns: Aaron Robinson, CB, UCF

    27. Baltimore Ravens: Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU

    28. New Orleans Saints: Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU

    29. Green Bay Packers: Tyson Campbell, CB, Georgia

    30. Buffalo Bills: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

    31. Kansas City Chiefs: Joe Tryon, DE, Washington

    32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama

Lawrence Likely to Become Jaguars' Franchise Quarterback

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    It didn't take long for everybody to learn that Lawrence was a special player upon his arrival at Clemson in 2018. He led the Tigers to a national championship as a freshman and finished his three-year career as their starting quarterback with a 34-2 record.

    A 6'6", 213-pound signal-caller, Lawrence held his pro day Friday, making 52 throws and working out in front of representatives from 16 NFL teams (including new Jacksonville head coach Urban Meyer), according to ESPN's Todd McShay. Meyer encouraged Lawrence to hold his pro day early (which he did) so he could see him throw before the quarterback undergoes surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, per McShay.

    And as Lawrence has done throughout his football career, he appeared to have put on a good show.

    "To me, the most impressive thing about Lawrence is that he never wavers," McShay wrote. "He is always calm and under control. When he makes a mistake, he wants to know what happened and why, but he never gets flustered. That's super valuable in a franchise quarterback, and Lawrence seems ready to be one."

    The Jaguars already have some talented players on their offense (such as running back James Robinson and wide receiver DJ Chark Jr.). With Lawrence likely to take over under center, it wouldn't be surprising for things to start trending in a positive direction for Jacksonville in the near future.

Smith Boosted Draft Stock with Thrilling Senior Season

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Throughout his four-year career at Alabama, DeVonta Smith improved as he became a bigger part of the Crimson Tide's offense. And his senior season ended up being one of the best by a college wide receiver in quite some time.

    Smith had 117 receptions for 1,856 yards and scored 24 total touchdowns. He put up big numbers during Alabama's 13-0 season, including in the College Football Playoff National Championship against Ohio State, when he had 12 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns—all in the first half. And that took place after Smith became the first receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since Michigan's Desmond Howard in 1991.

    Although Smith may appear a bit undersized (listed at 6'1", 175 pounds), he has big-play potential and possesses the speed and playmaking skills to continue his strong play at the NFL level. After his impressive 2020 season, he's likely to be a top-10 pick, potentially even a top-five selection, and should be one of the first wide receivers off the board.

    One interesting scenario that could unfold relates to whether the Miami Dolphins want to add a wide receiver with the No. 3 pick. Miami could benefit from adding a playmaker to its offense, so why not select one who is familiar with its starting quarterback? Tua Tagovailoa was Alabama's quarterback before he got selected by the Dolphins with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft.

    Tagovailoa and Smith already developed a connection during their time together with the Crimson Tide. Perhaps that could pay dividends for the Dolphins should they opt to reunite the former Alabama teammates.

Pitts Has Potential to Become Elite Playmaker at TE

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Kyle Pitts is 6'6" and 246 pounds, and he has no problem using his size to go up and make contested catches. Because of that, the former Florida tight end has the potential to be a dynamic playmaker once he arrives in the NFL.

    During his junior season with the Gators in 2020, Pitts had 43 receptions for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns despite injury limiting him to eight games. If he had played in all 12 of Florida's games, he likely would have put up even bigger numbers considering he had a touchdown in all but two games in which he played.

    There aren't many elite tight ends in the NFL, but Pitts could become one for whichever team he joins. It shouldn't take long for him to make an offensive impact, and he should only get better once he adjusts to the professional level.

    If Pitts is still on the board when the New York Giants are on the clock at No. 11, it could be wise for them to draft the talented former Gator. New York has a solid tight end in Evan Engram, but its offense could become difficult to stop by pairing him with Pitts and adding another weapon for quarterback Daniel Jones to utilize.

    Regardless of where Pitts ends up, though, don't be surprised to see him start making big plays in the near future.