2021 NFL Mock Draft: 1st-Round Predictions and Top Prospects on the Rise

Theo SalaunCorrespondent IApril 28, 2021

2021 NFL Mock Draft: 1st-Round Predictions and Top Prospects on the Rise

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    The 2021 NFL draft is a day away and, outside of the first pick, no one knows what to expect. A tight end could be the first pass-catcher off the board, three different quarterbacks are in the running for No. 3 overall and there could be zero defenders chosen in the top 10.

    It's a particularly unpredictable draft, but some choices are beginning to narrow down. With emerging reports about teams' positional and player preferences, we now have as clear a picture as we'll ever have before the picks start rolling in.

    Following our updated first-round mock draft, we dive into three prospects who continue to trend upward.

2021 NFL Mock Draft

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    George Frey/Associated Press

    1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

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

    3. San Francisco 49ers (via MIA/HOU): Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

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

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

    6. Miami Dolphins (via PHI): Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

    7. Detroit Lions: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

    8. Carolina Panthers: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

    9. Denver Broncos: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

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

    11. New York Giants: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

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

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

    14. Minnesota Vikings: Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan

    15. New England Patriots: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

    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: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC

    22. Tennessee Titans: Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss

    23. New York Jets (via SEA): Gregory Rousseau, Edge, Miami

    24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

    25. Jacksonville Jaguars (via LAR): Tre'von Moehrig, S, TCU

    26. Cleveland Browns: Zaven Collins, OLB, Tulsa

    27. Baltimore Ravens: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State

    28. New Orleans Saints: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

    29. Green Bay Packers: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

    30. Buffalo Bills: Christian Barmore, DL, Alabama

    31. Baltimore Ravens (via KC): Jayson Oweh, Edge, Penn State

    32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Azeez Ojulari, Edge, Georgia

Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    In the month since the San Francisco 49ers traded up to No. 3, no selection has been as widely discussed. Initially, it felt obvious that San Francisco would choose between whichever quarterback the New York Jets passed on: BYU's Zach Wilson or Ohio State's Justin Fields.

    Later, Alabama's Mac Jones also emerged as a real contender, but North Dakota State's high-ceiling Trey Lance is gaining more and more traction. With NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reporting that Fields is now behind Jones and Lance, the latter enters the limelight. 

    At 6'4", 224 pounds and coming off a season in which he ran for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2019 (he missed the 2020 season), Lance's physical profile has stratospheric upside. His accuracy is a lingering question mark (66.9 percent completion rate, compared to Jones' 77.4), but he did throw 28 touchdowns to...zero interceptions in 2019. If San Francisco doesn't want Fields, Lance skyrockets up draft boards as the perfect high-ceiling option to work in behind the limited Jimmy Garoppolo.

Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    No player's post-combine stock has risen as sharply as Kyle Pitts', and his stock was already high to begin with. After running a 4.44 40-yard dash at Florida's pro day, the 6'6", 245-pound highlight-making phenom is getting mocked as high as No. 4 (and, for some bold Garoppolo fans, No. 3). 

    That might be a bit too high, but it speaks to the tight end's reputation nonetheless. While Pitts told NFL Now that he thinks the "first four picks will be quarterbacks," it's still hard to project him outside of the top six. 

    Although Cincinnati could prioritize Joe Burrows' former teammate in Ja'Marr Chase, the Dolphins are unlikely to pass on Pitts' upside. The team's tight-end group was productive in 2020 and receivers like DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle complement DeVante Parker, but a generational talent trumps positional needs.

Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    A month ago, Kwity Paye was a late first-rounder in most mocks, but, like most 2021 defenders, he has swung around. Now, the Michigan outside rusher could get nabbed in the top 15. 

    Despite posting atypical numbers for a top-15 defensive lineman, Paye's 11.5 sacks across four seasons at Michigan fail to paint a full picture. The 22-year-old edge, at 6'2 1/2", 261 pounds, has a legitimate physical foundation and he has shown an ability to generate pressure. Add on unsolved injury concerns for Jaelan Phillips and there's a clear recipe for Paye to be the first DE selected.

    Pro Football Network's Tony Pauline has mentioned that the Eagles "love" Paye, and he is an option for them at No. 12. But, even if they understandably opt for a top corner instead, he's unlikely to drop too far. The Minnesota Vikings have a lot of holes to fill and a strong presence on the outside is always a good place to start.