NFL Draft 2021: Latest Expert Mocks, Projections for Tough 1st-Round Decisions

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IApril 11, 2021

NFL Draft 2021: Latest Expert Mocks, Projections for Tough 1st-Round Decisions

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    During the 2021 NFL draft, some teams will have no trouble making decisions when they are on the clock.

    For example, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is widely considered to be the top prospect in this year's draft class. And the Jacksonville Jaguars, who own the No. 1 overall pick, need a new franchise signal-caller.

    Other teams will have tougher decisions to make. Perhaps a player they were targeting came off the board, requiring them to pivot. Or maybe there are two strong prospects who fill different needs, leaving that team needing to choose between the two.

    These are the moves that will end up shaping the first round of the draft, which takes place April 29.

    Until then, experts and analysts will continue to speculate how things are going to unfold when draft night arrives. Here are some of their predictions regarding some of the teams that will likely have the toughest decisions to make in the opening round.

Who Will 49ers Draft to Replace Garoppolo?

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers likely traded up to the No. 3 pick in the draft for one reason: to select a new franchise quarterback. Though Jimmy Garoppolo remains on the team's roster, it's been widely speculated that the 49ers will probably be going in a different direction soon.

    When San Francisco is on the clock, the top two quarterbacks in the class (Lawrence and BYU's Zach Wilson) are likely to be off the board. That will leave North Dakota State's Trey Lance, Ohio State's Justin Fields and Alabama's Mac Jones as the top available quarterbacks.

    Many mock drafts are predicting that San Francisco will take Jones. ESPN's Todd McShay, NFL Network's Peter Schrager and Daniel Jeremiah and the New York Post's Steve Serby all have the 49ers taking the former Crimson Tide standout.

    However, not everybody thinks that will happen. Dalton Johnson and Josh Schrock of NBC Sports have San Francisco drafting Fields. Meanwhile, Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports believes Lance will be going to the 49ers.

    It's a huge decision that could greatly alter the course of the franchise. If San Francisco makes the wrong choice, it could negatively affect the team for years to come. But if the 49ers add a future star, they could be set up for long-term success.

How Will Bengals Add to Offense at No. 5?

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    Quarterbacks are going to be flying off the board early, but the Cincinnati Bengals won't be in the mix. They selected Joe Burrow with the No. 1 overall pick in 2020, so they are already set. However, they will likely be looking for an offensive player to help build around Burrow for the future.

    And Cincinnati should have its choice of some talented non-quarterbacks with the way the draft is likely to start. Oregon tackle Penei Sewell, Florida tight end Kyle Pitts and LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase could all be possibilities for the Bengals at the No. 5 pick.

    Serby believes Burrow's past with Chase, his former college teammate, could factor into Cincinnati's decision.

    "What Joe Burrow wants, Joe Burrow gets," Serby recently wrote. "And Joe Burrow wants to throw the ball to his college go-to guy."

    McShay and Schrager also believes the Bengals will draft Chase, while Jeremiah has them taking Pitts and Trapasso has them selecting Sewell. So while Chase is the favorite, his selection at No. 5 is not a sure thing.

Will Patriots Trade Up to Draft a QB?

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Last offseason, the New England Patriots signed Cam Newton to a one-year deal to be their starting quarterback for the 2020 season. This offseason, they gave him another one-year contract. However, Newton is turning 32 in May and hasn't been playing at the MVP level he showed earlier in his career, so he's unlikely to be the Pats' long-term solution under center.

    It may be time for New England to draft a new franchise quarterback. But given how quickly quarterbacks will likely be taken in the first round this year, the top-tier prospects could all be off the board by the time the Patriots are on the clock at No. 15.

    Perhaps that means New England will trade up, which is a scenario several experts see unfolding. McShay believes the Patriots will move up four spots to No. 11 in order to draft Fields.

    "Fields is accurate downfield and can develop into a top-tier starter for a team searching for stability at the position in the post-Tom Brady era," McShay recently wrote.

    Schrager also has New England taking Fields, but he has the Pats trading up to No. 4 to do so. Either way, it's a possibility that the Patriots could move up on draft night to land one of the top quarterback prospects.