2021 NFL Mock Draft: 1st-Round Predictions and Rising Impact Prospects

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 10, 2021

2021 NFL Mock Draft: 1st-Round Predictions and Rising Impact Prospects

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    Sam Craft/Associated Press

    The NFL stars of tomorrow are the fascinations of the football world today.

    Few things excite fanbases more than NFL draft talk, especially those with allegiances to teams coming off of down seasons. The talent grab might be an educated guessing game at best, but it can give hope to the otherwise hopeless.

    Some prospects have been the darlings of forlorn fanbases for months, if not longer. Others have only recently become possible targets of these ill-starred squads.

    After updating our mock first round, we'll spotlight three rising prospects with impact-player upside.

2021 NFL Mock Draft

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

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

    3. San Francisco 49ers (via MIA/HOU): Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

    4. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

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

    6. Miami Dolphins (via PHI): DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

    7. Detroit Lions: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

    8. Carolina Panthers: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

    9. Denver Broncos: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

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

    11. New York Giants: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern

    12. Philadelphia Eagles (via MIA/SF): Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

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

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

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

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

    17. Las Vegas Raiders: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

    18. Miami Dolphins: Jaelan Phillips, Edge, Miami

    19. Washington Football Team: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame

    20. Chicago Bears: Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida

    21. Indianapolis Colts: Gregory Rousseau, Edge, Miami

    22. Tennessee Titans: Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU

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

    24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

    25. Jacksonville Jaguars (via LAR): Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State

    26. Cleveland Browns: Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan

    27. Baltimore Ravens: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

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

    29. Green Bay Packers: Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame

    30. Buffalo Bills: Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina

    31. Kansas City Chiefs: Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss

    32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Zaven Collins, OLB, Tulsa

Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Kyle Pitts spent the regular season cementing himself as the best tight end in this draft. By the time he had finished piling up 43 receptions for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns, that wasn't a conversation anymore.

    Turns out the John Mackey Award winner was just getting started.

    After scorching through the physical testing at Florida's Pro Day—recording a 33.5" vertical, a 10'9" broad jump, an unofficial 4.44-second 40-yard dash and 22 bench-press repetitions of 225 pounds—Pitts has potentially positioned himself as the top pass-catching weapon in the entire class. Given his stated goal after the workout, he's aiming even higher for the future.

    "Start at a high level and keep increasing every year and being able to do other things that other tight ends aren't doing, which would make me special," Pitts told reporters. "At the end of the day, with all the preparation and through the years, I feel like I'll be the best to ever do it."

    This is a good draft for wide receivers, but Pitts might hear his name called before any of them. In fact, if our mock predictions hold true, he will be the first non-quarterback taken April 29.

Jaelan Phillips, Edge, Miami

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    Matt Gentry/Associated Press

    With our mock draft—and many others—not featuring a pass-rusher inside the top 10, opportunity is knocking for an edge-rusher to separate from the pack.

    Jaelan Phillips might have answered it at Miami's pro day.

    The former UCLA transfer was already sitting higher after a super-productive debut effort with the Hurricanes. He tallied 45 tackles in 10 games, including 15.5 for loss and eight sacks.

    Still, his draft stock went next-level after blazing through the athletic portions of the workout. As Jonas Shaffer relayed for the Baltimore Sun, Phillips "ranked in the 90th percentile, the 93rd percentile in the 40-yard dash (4.56 seconds) and the 96th percentile in the 20-yard shuttle."

    Phillips stands 6'6", tips the scales at 260 pounds and looks every bit those dimensions. Imagining him motoring around with a sub-4.6 40-yard dash is enough to already cause some sleepless nights for NFL quarterbacks.

Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    At this point, NFL evaluators understand the importance of keeping close tabs on LSU's wide receivers. The program has become a pipeline for elite pass-catchers, most recently delivering the top rookie wideout of 2020, Minnesota Vikings rising star Justin Jefferson.

    It's hard for a Tigers wideout to slip through the cracks, then, but Terrace Marshall Jr. hasn't always received the attention he deserved. Maybe opting out midseason in 2020 helped keep him hidden, but more likely he was hurt by sharing the field with Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase in 2019 and then not having a reliable quarterback to work with in 2020.

    But the buzz is building for Marshall, as it arguably should have been all along, considering he managed 94 receptions for 1,402 yards and 23 touchdowns across 19 contests the past two seasons. Between bouncing up for a 39" vertical, then zipping through a 4.38-second 40-yard dash, the 6'2", 205-pounder aced the physical testing and could see a draft boost because of it.

    The wide receiver class is deep enough to still obscure Marshall to some degree, but if he falls out of the opening round, a lot of decision-makers will have botched their choices.