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Everything written here will all be extremely irrelevant in just a few days. That is true. And NFL mock drafts are essentially just fan fiction for sports nerds. I’m well aware. So, I’m not going to pretend this is something greater than what it is. But for exactly that reason, I also had quite a bit of fun with this, and I hope you did too. Here’s my final 2021 NFL Mock Draft.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Lawrence can show up to the actual NFL Draft wearing a modified gas mask bong and still be the no-brainer first-overall pick for the Jaguars.
2. New York Jets: QB Zach Wilson, BYU
Vegas has Wilson at -5000 odds to be the No. 2 pick, and I have a feeling they’re right. So, if you want to bet $1,000 to win $20, you can thank me later.
3. San Francisco 49ers: QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
Here’s where things get tricky. Mac Jones seemed like a lock several weeks ago, and though his odds have fallen (-167), he’s still the heavy favorite. Per Ian Rapoport, it’s down to Jones and Trey Lance. One key piece of evidence for Jones was that GM John Lynch said he will “always defer” to HC Kyle Shanahan on QBs, and we know Jones has been Shanahan’s lean for a while. This is where all mock drafts fall apart if you’re wrong. If Jones is indeed the 49ers’ pick, then I think Lance goes to Atlanta and Kyle Pitts goes to Miami. But the rumor I’m hearing is that, while Jones might have been the player Shanahan had in mind when he traded up for this pick, Lance is now the favorite. One key piece of supporting evidence is Miami announcing their desire to trade down – I was told Atlanta would take Lance if he was available, but would gladly go with Pitts as Plan B if San Francisco took Lance. And Miami was always hoping for one of Ja’Marr Chase or Kyle Pitts to be available at their No. 6 pick, and now neither player would be available if Lance went third. Another factor, as Josh Norris pointed out in his mock draft, was Shanahan asking Lance to work with his friend John Beck. Norris asked rhetorically: “How often does that happen? When has a decision-maker had such a heavy hand in a prospect’s pre-draft process?”
4. Atlanta Falcons: TE Kyle Pitts, Florida
Atlanta GM Terry Fontenot might want to draft the QB of their future, as top-5 picks (or, rather, opportunities to draft a premium QB) are rare. Or he might want to trade down and acquire more draft capital to plug some holes in the team’s bottom-tier defense. But I have a hard time imagining new HC Arthur Smith (a former TEs coach who had Delanie Walker on pace for 100+ receptions in 2015) would let him pass on the opportunity of adding a generational play-maker and pairing him up with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley (presuming Atlanta doesn’t trade Julio, of course). How would you gameplan against that offense? I have no idea.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: WR Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
The rumor I’ve heard is that HC Zac Taylor wants a tackle. The OL coach wants a different tackle. But QB Joe Burrow and the team’s owner want Chase. So, who gets their way? The person who holds the most power – the owner, Mike Brown – duh!
6. Chicago Bears (trade via MIA): QB Mac Jones, Alabama
I think with Miami’s two targets off the board, they do elect to trade down from this pick. I’ve been told Chicago is enamored with Jones, and, I mean, we didn’t really think they’d be starting Andy Dalton in Week 1, did we? Chicago doesn’t have a lot of draft capital to trade away, but Miami also already has a buttload of draft capital to work with. Look for Chicago to sell a big-name veteran (Khalil Mack?) in addition to their No. 20 pick.
7. New England Patriots (trade via DET): QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
On paper, it’s hard to imagine Detroit passing up the opportunity to take OT Penei Sewell or QB Justin Fields. But Detroit is also multiple years away from building a playoff-caliber team and everything indicates they’re well aware of that fact. So, they’re probably also aware they’d be better off trading down and acquiring more draft capital (as opposed to taking a player) in preparation for their 2023 or 2024 run at the playoffs. Fields (114.7 Speed Score), compared favorably to Cam Newton (114.7 Speed Score) by the great Danny Kelly, would be a perfect fit for New England’s offense. After taking Ohio State to the National Championship, and finishing 21-1 as a starter, he’ll feel right at home in a Bill Belichick locker room built on a culture of winning. And Belichick, understandably, has no desire to have another losing season on his resume.
8. Carolina Panthers: OT Penei Sewell, Oregon
Many NFL front office executives feel as though the heightened demand for franchise QBs via the NFL Draft makes little sense, arguing there’s essentially a bubble in the QB draft market fueled by some sort of speculative euphoria. Teams aren’t investing in prospects so much as they are engaging in high-risk speculation, mortgaging their futures and gambling entirely on the upside of the prospect they’re drafting. (Much like with how I feel about NFTs.) The consensus, at least according to the executives Bob McGinn talked to, is that this actually isn’t a special QB class. All of the QBs we’ve seen taken thus far are actually far more risky than their draft capital implies. But NFL teams have little choice but to gamble on these QBs because, much like the seeker position in Quidditch, QB is of borderline-broken levels of importance in the sport. Which is to say, QB is the most important position in football, and by a landslide. What is a top-5 QB worth to a team who currently owns the 25th-best QB in football? Is he worth the league’s best center, right guard, safety, and running back? He might be.
Anyway, in that article, multiple executives argued Sam Darnold would rank no worse than No. 2 against the QBs in this class. So, buying him for just a second- and a fourth-round pick means Carolina might already be one of the biggest winners in the draft. Add in the fact that they just landed a borderline generational left tackle – one whom many teams likely have ranked as the best non-QB and non-pass-catcher in this class – at pick No. 8, and they’re already vying for having one of the best drafts in the class.
9. Denver Broncos: OT Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
While the Panthers can’t imagine their luck, Denver can’t believe their misfortune. I imagine they tried and failed to trade up to draft a QB, unable to believe the teams farther back in the draft were able to leapfrog them. A number of highly-regarded WRs are available here, but the fit doesn’t make a lot of sense given their stacked WR room (Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, Tim Patrick). What they really wanted and needed was a QB. And maybe for a second they thought Sewell might fall to them. Still, Rashawn Slater is a nice consolation prize, and one that fills an important need. Despite having an absolute legend in Mike Munchak coaching the OL, Denver’s offense ranked 5th-worst in PFF run blocking grade and 11th-worst in pass blocking grade last season.
10. Dallas Cowboys: CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
A whopping 70% of all mock drafts written over the past four weeks have Surtain going to Dallas at pick No. 10. In the words of Annie Lennox: “Who am I to disagree?” But, by the way, this no doubt fills a need for Dallas. Opposing WR1s out-scored their expectation by a league-high 6.4 FPG when facing the Cowboys last season. No other defense came close.
11. New York Giants: WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama
This feels like the most Dave Gettleman pick of all time: Reporter 1: “You weren’t worried about the analytics; the weight / BMI concerns?” Gettleman: “Not one bit. Listen, this kid is a helluva football player. He won the Heisman Trophy last year. How many WRs have done that?” Reporter 2: “Why go WR when you already have Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, and Darius Slayton?” Gettleman: “Listen, this kid’s a helluva football player. He won the Heisman Trophy last year for chrissake. You can’t ever have enough talented football players. Can’t ever give our QB [Daniel Jones] enough help.”
12. Philadelphia Eagles: CB Jaycee Horn, South Carolina
The Eagles have an shutdown CB in Darius Slay, but he’s getting older and they still gave up the 6th-most FPG to outside WRs last year. (After giving up the most, most, most, and 2nd-most FPG to outside WRs since 2016.) And their division rivals are all stacked at the WR position: Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Terry McLaurin, Kenny Golladay, and now given this mock DeVonta Smith. Philadelphia may have preferred Surtain, and even contemplated a trade up to leapfrog their division rivals (like they did when selecting TE Dallas Goedert), but, ultimately, I don’t think there’s enough of a difference between their talent levels to justify such a move.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
In this scenario, Los Angeles tried and failed multiple times to trade up for OT Penei Sewell, and maybe also OT Rashawn Slater. The Chargers desperately need some OL help, and they don’t particularly need another WR, but I have a hard time imagining they pass on Waddle if he’s there. Waddle immediately helps on special teams in the return game, and also brings an explosive element to the passing game. Los Angeles would sport one of the most fearsome WR trios in football, with Waddle in the slot and Keenan Allen and Mike Williams outside, making things easier on 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert. And, just as important, helping them keep pace with Patrick Mahomes and their division rival Chiefs.
For what it’s worth, OT Christian Darrisaw or OG Alijah Vera-Tucker might make more sense, though most mock drafts have them going a few picks later. So, maybe a trade back to Arizona or Miami – who have both been linked to trade-ups for Waddle – makes even more sense.
14. Minnesota Vikings: EDGE Kwity Paye, Michigan
This seems like a best-case scenario for the Vikings, who finished dead-last in PFF pass rush grade last year. Paye is near unanimously the top EDGE defender in this class.
15. Detroit Lions (trade via NE): LB Micah Parsons, Penn State
At his introductory press conference in January, new HC Dan Campbell told reporters, "We’re gonna kick you in the teeth, and when you punch us back we’re gonna smile at you, and when you knock us down we’re going to get up, and on the way, we’re going to bite a kneecap off." I’m hearing there’s a good chance Parsons falls out of the top-15 due to off-the-field concerns, but I like this fit for the Lions. LB is a need for the Lions, and (on the field) Parsons is a special talent. In his last season at Penn State, Parsons recorded 109 tackles, 14.0 tackles for a loss, 5.0 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and 3 kneecaps bitten off.
16. Arizona Cardinals: CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
A high number of the industry’s most in-the-know people are reporting whispers that Arizona will be trying to move up in the draft to select WR Jaylen Waddle. But I’ve been told if they do move up (and they’d like to) not to be surprised if the player they select is actually CB Jaycee Horn. In this scenario, they failed to move up (though the rebuilding Eagles, which ultimately selected Horn in this mock draft, make a ton of sense as a potential trade partner, as they should prefer to collect picks rather than players) and had to settle for their No. 3 CB Caleb Farley. Farley has injury concerns, but was frequently selected as the No. 1 CB off the board in early (January-February) mock drafts.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: OT Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
Albert Breer told us on Monday: Given their losses on the offensive line, someone like Darrisaw could make sense for the Raiders.” And, well, I agree. If he’s still on the board at this point (though I think there’s a good chance the Chargers take him), this pick makes a ton of sense. In 293 pass blocking snaps last season, Darrisaw didn’t let his QB get hit once.
18. Miami Dolphins: OT/OG Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
As I mentioned earlier, Miami had their sights set on either TE Kyle Pitts or WR Ja’Marr Chase. After missing out, they might have selected WR Jaylen Waddle, who many have reported as their backup plan. But I had a hard time imagining they’d take him so early. In this scenario, they acquired a veteran asset from Chicago to move down to No. 20, and with their No. 18 pick drafted the highest guy on their board. I was told several weeks ago by a trustworthy source, “Vera-Tucker’s floor is No. 18 to Miami.”
19. Washington Football Team: LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
Washington could have gone in many different directions with this pick, but I made things easy on myself, and just had them take the best player on the board. Though LB is a need, Owusu-Koramoah is also more than just a LB. He’s a unique and versatile multi-positional playmaker who has “shades of Jamal Adams” to his game, per The Ringer’s Danny Kelly.
20. Miami Dolphins (trade via CHI): EDGE Jaelan Phillips, Miami
Miami could use another EDGE defender, and well, Phillips is supposedly the second-best edge defender in the class, so, uhh, that’s why they take Phillips here. Listen, I’m a fantasy guy, I’m not great with defensive players. And I sort of backed myself into a corner with this Chicago trade that doesn’t make a ton of sense for Miami. So, yeah…
21. Indianapolis Colts: EDGE Azeez Olujari, Georgia
GM Chris Ballard loves to trade down, so if they don’t go that route (maybe to Buffalo, who, reportedly, would love to move up for RB Travis Etienne), I could see them trying to address a glaring need with the pass rush.
22. Tennessee Titans: WR Elijah Moore, Ole Miss
“I haven't spoken to a single decision-maker in the past week who doesn't have Ole Miss' Elijah Moore as that team's No. 4 wide receiver in the class.” – Todd McShay (4/26) The Titans should be ecstatic with this pick, landing my guy Moore to man the slot. This is a position of need, needing to add another pass-catcher, after losing Corey Davis, Adam Humphries, and Jonnu Smith in free agency. He’ll be reunited with former teammate A.J. Brown, and will be an immediate fantasy contributor. Those three receivers leave behind 192 targets in their wake, and Moore profiles as a true PPR cheat code at the next level, after averaging 10.8 receptions per game last season.
23. New York Jets: EDGE Gregory Rousseau, Miami
“[Robert] Saleh can never have enough edge guys”, said one of his former co-workers to Albert Breer. Jean-Jacques Rousseau might have hated Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, but Gregory Rousseau is a leviathan, playing like a 10-limbed kraken, with the size, ferocity, and raw power of Moby Dick, tossing aside left tackles like Scylla would dinghy boats. Is he really that good? I have no idea (see: note under pick No. 20), but apparently EDGE defender is a need and Rousseau is apparently the fourth-best edge defender in this class. At 6’6 ½” and 266 pounds, Rousseau recorded 15.5 sacks in 2019 before opting out of the 2020 season.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: RB Najee Harris, Alabama
Per Steelers beat writer Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh wants “a more dynamic feature back, a player who can put back in the offense a dimension that has been missing since the departure of Le’Veon Bell. They will do that in the draft, most likely in the first round, no later than the second.” While the word on the street is that most teams have Travis Etienne as the top RB in the class, Etienne doesn’t have the bell-cow potential Harris has. So, Pittsburgh gets their bell cow in Harris, and we get another bell cow for fantasy. This probably isn’t a great pick from a real-football standpoint, but it’s no doubt a great one for fantasy. If this happens, don’t be surprised if Harris’ ADP jumps to late Round 1 in redraft leagues.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars: EDGE Jayson Oweh, Penn State
Oweh is a raw developmental prospect, but one oozing with upside, which makes him a great fit for Jacksonville’s young and ascending team. He’s an athletic freak, listed at 6'5" and 257 pounds, running a 4.36 forty-yard-dash at his Pro Day, along with a broad jump measuring 11 feet, 2 inches. Since 2000, there’s only been one player to weigh in at over 250 pounds and also run a sub-4.40 forty-yard dash at the NFL Combine (Vernon Davis). But Oweh is fairly raw – he only started playing football in his junior year of high school, and wasn't a starter in his first two seasons at Penn State. He didn’t earn a single sack in 2020, but he was also PFF’s 7th highest-graded player at the position (of 100-plus qualifiers playing in the Power-5).
26. Cleveland Browns: S Trevon Moehrig, TCU
Cleveland takes the BPA (best player available) in Moehrig, who can play safety alongside John Johnson, or maybe even nickel CB. In our Draft Guide, Greg Cosell compared Moehrig favorably to Justin Simmons.
27. Baltimore Ravens: WR Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
It’s fairly unanimous Baltimore views WR as a need and wants to select a WR in the class. So, why not my No. 5 WR, Bateman? Bateman can play in the slot, or out wide opposite Marquise Brown – he leads all WRs in this class in career YPRR when lined up out wide. This is a fun pick from a real-football perspective, but an unsexy pick from a fantasy perspective. In Baltimore, Bateman will deal with a lack of volume on their run-first offense, competing for targets alongside Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown. QB Lamar Jackson also ranked bottom-10 in accurate pass% last year, per PFF.
28. New Orleans Saints: CB Greg Newsome II, Northwestern
After losing CB Janoris Jenkins in free agency, and with CB Marshon Lattimore on the last year of his deal, I see New Orleans drafting for need here. Newsome catapulted up boards after a phenomenal 2020 campaign, surrendering just 12 catches in six games, per PFF.
29. Green Bay Packers: WR Rondale Moore, Purdue
Here’s what I said in our initial FantasyPoints Staff Mock Draft (which you can find in our 2021 NFL Draft Guide:
“Rondale Moore is a special prospect, but an imperfect one. As a true freshman and at only 18 years of age, Moore recorded 114 receptions, 1,258 receiving yards, and 12 scores as a receiver, while adding 213 rushing yards and two scores on 21 carries (10.1 YPC). He dealt with injuries over his next two seasons with the Boilermakers, but still averaged 10.3 catches and 106.5 receiving YPG when healthy. Moore projects to be highly scheme-dependent and landing spot-dependent, but this landing spot couldn’t be any more perfect for both sides. At 5'7", Moore’s miniature catch radius is a concern, but pairing him up with (probably) the most accurate passer in football means it’s no longer a major one. And after what I saw from the Packers’ offense last year, I have full faith in HC Matt LaFleur’s ability to use Moore the right way – which is to say, making him the focal point of their quick passing game, manufacturing touches via screens and sweeps, using him in motion and getting him out in space where he is at his best. It’s rare to see an offense as potent as Green Bay’s was last year while really only having one WR opposing defenses had to account for. Adding Moore gives Green Bay a dangerous weapon out of the slot – one Aaron Rodgers hasn’t had since pre-injury Randall Cobb – and helps bring an entirely new and different dimension to their offense.”
Obviously, I still love this landing spot, and after last year’s abomination of a draft, Rodgers has to be pretty happy as well.
30. Buffalo Bill: RB Travis Etienne, Clemson
The rumor is Buffalo is eager to trade up and jump the Jets and Jaguars to select RB Travis Etienne. That’s certainly possible, but I’m also not entirely sure it’s necessary, given how late we’ve seen some very good RBs fall in recent drafts. It’s also not really a need, nor would be a smart move, per the “Running Backs Don’t Matter”-minded analytic community. But then again, per Lance Zierlein a majority of teams have Etienne over Harris, so maybe he actually goes much sooner and to a different team. Anyway, I do firmly believe Etienne is a “special” RB prospect but this would be another “gross” landing spot for fantasy, as QB Josh Allen is effectively his team’s goal-line back. In PPR leagues, Buffalo ranked second-worst in total team RB fantasy points scored (perhaps a reason to upgrade there, of course).
31. Baltimore Ravens: OT Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State
After trading away Pro Bowl OT Orlando Brown to secure this pick, Baltimore then tries to replace him with this pick as well. This would be a steal for them, as Jenkins is a consensus top-25 pick per most mock drafts.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: RB Javonte Williams, North Carolina
Per sources, Tampa Bay was hoping for WR Elijah Moore or WR Rashod Bateman, but they went much earlier in this mock draft, but they’d still be happy with Williams as their fall-back option. This is somewhat messy from a fantasy perspective, as Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette, and Giovani Bernard are all still on the roster, but I don’t hate this that much from a real-football-perspective. Or at least not as much as the rest of #AnalyticsTwitter is going to. This is no doubt a luxury pick, but it’s a luxury the defending Super Bowl champions (with maybe the most rock-solid roster in football) can afford. As much as running backs might not matter, I don’t think drafting a Round 1 RB is as egregious a mistake as signing a 26-year-old RB to a big-time deal. Unlike with the other positions, there’s not really a massive learning curve for RBs. It’s not uncommon to see rookie RBs become immediate and effective contributors, though that’s a lot rarer for TEs and WRs. And for the remainder of Williams’ rookie contract, you’re getting him in the prime of his career with minimal mileage on his engine.