USA

2021 NFL mock draft – NFL Nation reporters make first-round predictions

www.espn.com

You’ve read the latest mock drafts from draft gurus Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay. Now it’s time for our NFL Nation reporters to share their expertise on the 2021 NFL draft as we close in on Round 1 (Thursday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/ESPN App).

NFL Nation reporters played general manager for the teams they cover and executed a first-round mock. By the end, there were five quarterbacks taken — including with the first three picks — and the first defensive player wasn’t taken until No. 8. Trades were not allowed. Here are the full results:


Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson | Highlights

Lawrence is the most polished quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck (2012) and ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has him as his fourth-highest-graded QB prospect, behind only John Elway, Peyton Manning and Luck. The Jaguars, who have lost 10 or more games in nine of the past 10 seasons, desperately need him to fix an offense that has been dreadful the past decade: They ranked 30th or worse in the NFL in points scored, yards per game, red zone efficiency, third-down conversion percentage, completion percentage and passer rating. — Michael DiRocco


Zach Wilson, QB, BYU | Highlights

The Jets locked into Wilson in late March, prompting them to trade Sam Darnold to the Panthers. The Jets view Wilson as an ideal scheme fit because of his accuracy, play-action skill and ability to throw in a moving pocket. There’s risk, though. He was a one-year wonder who piled up impressive numbers against weak competition. His smallish frame also raises durability questions. The organization’s job is to protect him and cultivate his obvious arm talent. — Rich Cimini


Mac Jones, QB, Alabama | Highlights

It wouldn’t be a surprise if the 49ers went with another option, especially North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, in search of more upside. But ultimately, coach Kyle Shanahan puts a premium on being able to operate successfully from the pocket and that’s what Jones does best, with an FBS record 77.4% completion rate in 2020. His 61.2% completion percentage on passes traveling 20-plus air yards could also bring a missing element to Shanahan’s offense. Selecting Jones wouldn’t be popular with the fan base but all will be forgiven if he can win big in San Francisco. — Nick Wagoner


Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida | Highlights

If the draft were to fall this way, it’s easy to see Atlanta trying to trade down with a quarterback-needy team to acquire more capital. While quarterback is a possibility for Atlanta, the thought of that player sitting for two years behind Matt Ryan might not be palatable. Pitts becomes an instant starter for the Falcons and a player who coach Arthur Smith can move all over the field, in-line and split out wide in an offense with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. He’s potentially the best non-Trevor Lawrence player in the draft and general manager Terry Fontenot can build around him in the future. — Michael Rothstein


Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU | Highlights

The debate all offseason has been Chase or Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell. Bengals exec Duke Tobin has said the team believes the draft isn’t as deep at receiver as it is on the offensive line. Chase gives the Bengals another playmaker on the perimeter and reunites him with quarterback Joe Burrow, his former LSU teammate. Chase will be a strong fit for an offense that primarily uses three wide receivers. — Ben Baby


DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama | Highlights

The dreams of Miami landing Pitts or Chase died here, but this isn’t a nightmare scenario. Miami may try to trade back a few spots and still land one of the Alabama playmakers — Smith or Jaylen Waddle — a choice that could go either way. Waddle is faster and more explosive after the catch, while Smith is far more advanced as a route runner and hands-catcher with more success against press coverage. The slight edge goes to Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner who can be a No. 1 receiver from Day 1. — Cameron Wolfe


Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon | Highlights

It’s no secret the Lions need to rebuild their roster. They have a lot of flaws, notably on the defensive side. But it would make sense for first-year general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell to impact the bigs on either side or trade out of the spot before starting to entertain the skill positions. Sewell is a safe pick for the new regime, especially long-term. Sewell has elite foot speed and if he’s able to protect franchise quarterback Jared Goff, he will get love in Motown. — Eric Woodyard


Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech | Highlights

Look for Carolina to trade back if the draft falls this way. GM Scott Fitterer has already talked to at least five teams looking for a quarterback, such as Justin Fields. But if the Panthers stay put, a big press corner like Farley (6-foot-2, 197 pounds) fits what Fitterer looked for at Seattle. However, there are medical concerns with Farley, who recently had back surgery. Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II and South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn also could fit Carolina’s corner need, just not at No. 8. After Pitts, Chase and Sewell, a corner would have the biggest immediate impact. — David Newton


Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State | Highlights

The Broncos will listen to any and all offers they get to move out of this pick. In this scenario they would give a long look to players such as Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons or Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II. But general manager George Paton has said the team will add a quarterback either in the draft or in “the trade market.” Lance gives them the flexibility of the developmental prospect with the opportunity to see what Drew Lock will become in 2021. Lance won’t turn 21 until May and will need some time to get his NFL footing after one full season as a starter (2019) and one game played in the 2020 season. — Jeff Legwold


Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina | Highlights

Horn fits what the Cowboys need. After allowing the most points in franchise history in 2020 — including 34 touchdown passes (27 by wide receivers) — the Cowboys need help all across their defense, but a bona fide pass-rusher is not in the mix at this spot. Horn has shown the ability to make plays on the ball. His father, Joe, played for Mike McCarthy in New Orleans. His college coach, Will Muschamp, is close with coordinator Dan Quinn. — Todd Archer


Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama | Highlights

The 31st-ranked offense last year is getting back Saquon Barkley (who only played two games after tearing his ACL) and adding Kenny Golladay and now Waddle. Certainly they will not lack for weapons to assist quarterback Daniel Jones. Waddle can do it all — play inside, outside and return kicks. The Giants can use him all over the field and wait for the big plays to happen. “Explosive” is the word that multiple scouts and executives used to describe him. His speed has been compared to Tyreek Hill. Waddle averaged 44.5 yards per catch on his 17 career touchdown grabs at Alabama, per ESPN Stats and Information. His 24.4 yards per punt return in 2019 was the third-highest since the FBS and FCS split in 1978. — Jordan Raanan


Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama | Highlights

The Eagles traded back from No. 6 to 12 and still manage to land one of the top prospects in the draft. Surtain is a technically sound lockdown corner with the size (6-foot-2, 208 pounds) to get physical at the line of scrimmage and against the run, and the speed (4.46 second 40-yard dash) to stick with receivers down the field. The addition of Surtain will be music to the ears of defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, a former defensive backs coach who is expected to put a heavy emphasis on the secondary. Surtain, the 2020 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, will slide right in as the starting corner opposite Darius Slay. — Tim McManus


Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern | Highlights

Slater is considered by some to be the best offensive lineman in the draft, ahead of Sewell. He can play every position on the line. The Chargers are beefing up their line and he could slide into left tackle, a position he played (along with right tackle) at Northwestern before opting out. The object is to protect the franchise in QB Justin Herbert. And Slater had a dominant performance in 2019 against Ohio State’s Chase Young, the No. 2 overall pick in 2020. — Shelley Smith


Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech | Highlights

If one of the top three offensive tackles are available here, this pick is a no-brainer. Minnesota has needs on both the offensive and defensive lines but can find better value for a pass-rusher later. Darrisaw is the type of prospect who could start at left tackle from Day 1 and know you’re potentially set at the position for years, which is the type of long-term stability this offensive line has long desired. This would allow the Vikings to have four of the five spots on the O-line set before training camp begins. The Virginia Tech standout is a zone scheme fit who excels in pass protection — two attractive qualities for a unit that needs to shore up its ability to protect quarterback Kirk Cousins. — Courtney Cronin


play

1:04

Field Yates says Trey Lance has a higher ceiling than Mac Jones and believes Lance is a better fit for the Patriots.

Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State | Highlights

The thought was the Patriots would have to move up for their QB of the future, so this is a dream scenario … even if the Patriots aren’t believers, they should find plenty of trade interest with Fields still on the board. The Patriots attended both of Fields’ pro days, with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels at the second, so there’s no shortage of intelligence to make the call. The last QB to be picked at No. 15 was Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins — a reminder that there are no slam dunks here. — Mike Reiss


Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern | Highlights

Newsome has the size (6-foot-1), speed (4.38 in 40-yard dash) and ability to be the Cardinals’ No. 1 cornerback of the future. He’s versatile enough to seamless transition into Vance Joseph’s scheme and is talented enough to see the field early in his rookie year. Newsome will also benefit from learning from the likes of Malcolm Butler and Robert Alford, as well as Budda Baker and Isaiah Simmons, priming him for a productive career. And with this year’s receiving class being so deep, the Cardinals could hold off on drafting one until later rounds if the top three are off the board. — Josh Weinfuss


Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State | Highlights

A playmaking alpha linebacker for defensive coordinator Gus Bradley? Yes, please. Though it’s hard to see Parsons falling into the Raiders’ lap. Still, Las Vegas needs a versatile linebacker to fit Bradley’s scheme and Parsons would nicely complement Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski. A more realistic option in this scenario, if the top three OT prospects are gone by the 17th pick, is for the Raiders to trade back a few slots and select a versatile offensive lineman like USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker. He could slide inside to right guard and Denzelle Good could potentially move to right tackle. — Paul Gutierrez


18. Miami Dolphins

Azeez Ojulari, OLB, Georgia | Highlights

The Dolphins land the draft’s first true edge rusher. It was a tough decision between Ojulari and Michigan’s Kwity Paye, but the former got the nod because of his impressive bend and dip move, proven production and very good first step. Continuing the Tide reunion with RB Najee Harris was heavily considered, but Ojulari is too good to pass up, and the Dolphins can get their running back early in Round 2 with Travis Etienne and Javonte Williams available. — Cameron Wolfe


19. Washington Football Team

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame | Highlights

Washington wanted more production and versatility from its linebackers. It will get both in Owusu-Koramoah. (There are linebackers they like in Round 2 so a trade back will be explored). Owusu-Koramoah can play weakside linebacker in Washington’s base 4-3 front, and, playing behind this front, should have clean paths to the ball more often than not. He also can cover so Washington can mix coverages and formations, using him at times in a strong safety role or in its nickel packages. But the pick is a lot about his explosiveness and ability to make plays — traits that will be enhanced playing behind guys like Montez Sweat and Chase Young. — John Keim


Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State | Highlights

The Bears have a glaring need at right tackle, and Jenkins gets the nod over USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker, whose ultimate NFL position is a toss-up between tackle and guard. Jenkins plays with a mean streak, and the Bears could use more nasty on their offensive line. Plus, starting left tackle Charles Leno’s contact expires after the season, so the Bears might have to overhaul both tackle spots over the next 12 months. Jenkins feels like a safe pick at a position of need. Chicago must draft a Week 1 starter at No. 20, and Jenkins seems to check every box. — Jeff Dickerson


Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan | Highlights

Linebacker Darius Leonard and defensive lineman DeForest Buckner need some help now. Denico Autry and his 7.5 sacks are in Tennessee and veteran Justin Houston (8.0 sacks) is a free agent. Paye, despite 11.5 sacks in a little more than three years at Michigan, fits coordinator Matt Eberflus’ style of having fast and aggressive players. — Mike Wells


Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss | Highlights

Adding another impact player on offense is a top priority for the Titans after losing WR Corey Davis and TE Jonnu Smith in free agency. Reuniting Moore with college teammate A.J. Brown gives the Titans a reliable slot receiver who can replace Adam Humphries. Moore’s speed provides a much-needed vertical threat while his quickness makes him a viable option underneath. Moore’s willingness to make catches in a crowd will quickly earn the trust of QB Ryan Tannehill. Titans OC Todd Downing can showcase Moore’s dynamic playmaking on jet sweeps and quick hitting passes that get him the ball in space. Moore also adds excitement as a punt returner. — Turron Davenport


23. New York Jets (via SEA)

Alijah Vera-Tucker, G, USC | Highlights

After drafting Wilson, the Jets get some much-needed protection for their new franchise quarterback. Vera-Tucker is a plug-and-play guard who can replace Alex Lewis at left guard. With Vera-Tucker alongside 2020 No. 1 pick Mekhi Becton, the Jets should have a formidable left side for at least a few years. Vera-Tucker played left tackle last season for the Trojans, but scouts believe his best pro position is guard. He should add some punch to the running game, which has languished in recent years. This is a pick that marries need and value. — Rich Cimini


Najee Harris, RB, Alabama | Highlights

Linebackers were tempting but Pittsburgh has to fix a shoddy running game and the league consensus is Harris is special. Plus, the Steelers have gone linebacker with five of their last seven first-round picks. Time for something new. With four of the top tackles and the top guard off the board, the Steelers take the most complete running back in the field, ready for contact on Day 1. Expect the Steelers to grab a running back somewhere in the first three rounds regardless. They’ve done a lot of work on the position — Harris included — in recent weeks. — Jeremy Fowler


25. Jacksonville Jaguars (via LAR)

Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama | Highlights

Coach Urban Meyer believes you build your team around the defensive line, and Barmore would be a key piece. Barmore is the best defensive tackle in the draft and adds a pass-rush element (he led Alabama with eight sacks in 2020) that was missing from the Jaguars’ interior last season. The Jaguars also signed two defensive linemen in free agency (Roy Robertson-Harris and Jihad Ward) and traded for nose tackle Malcom Brown, but that’s not enough to fix one of the team’s biggest weaknesses. Barmore will help significantly. — Michael DiRocco


play

2:52

Ryan Clark sorts through who he thinks are the top five defensive options available in the 2021 NFL draft.

Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami | Highlights

Yes, the Browns just signed DE Jadeveon Clowney to pair with Myles Garrett. Clowney, however, comes in with health concerns. He’s also on a one-year deal. Phillips might have health concerns of his own. But grabbing quite possibly the most talented edge rusher in the draft at No. 26 is too much upside to pass up. When facing quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow, you can never have too many prolific pass-rushers. — Jake Trotter


Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU | Highlights

The Ravens’ most underrated need is a ball-hawking safety the team has lacked since Ed Reed left after the 2012 Super Bowl season. Moehrig is the consensus best safety in the draft who has traits Baltimore covets: a vocal leader and a knack for being around the ball. His 19 pass breakups over the last two seasons are the most among all college safeties. The Ravens return both starting safeties, but DeShon Elliott is a free agent after this season. Over the last three years, Baltimore’s safeties have totaled six interceptions. The addition of Moehrig will change that. — Jamison Hensley


Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky | Highlights

Coach Sean Payton identified cornerback as the Saints’ biggest remaining need last week. But none of the top four prospects came anywhere close to falling in this mock. So they fill another glaring hole instead — a linebacker to pair alongside All-Pro Demario Davis. The 6-foot-4, 234-pounder started for one year at Kentucky, but he made the most of it with three interceptions and averaging around 10 tackles per game. He has the size and athleticism to defend the run and drop back in coverage as an every-down player. Multiple receivers and DEs could also tempt New Orleans in this spot. — Mike Triplett


Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota | Highlights

If GM Brian Gutekunst truly subscribes to the best-player-available theory — isn’t that what QB Jordan Love was last year? — then he has to go this way. He needs a corner, but Farley, Horn and Surtain are off the board. He needs a tackle, but the Bears snatched Jenkins nine picks ago. So the Packers may finally end their 20-year, first-round receiver drought. — Rob Demovsky


Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami | Highlights

Clemson RB Travis Etienne was tough to pass up but GM Brandon Beane is thinking long-term here. As much as Etienne would help the offense right now, Rousseau has better long-haul value. Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison will suffice for another year but Buffalo still lacks an elite edge rusher. After registering 15.5 sacks as a freshman, the 6-foot-7 Rousseau has the potential to be one after learning from the two productive veterans. Pared opposite A.J. Epenesa, the Bills could have the future of their defensive line in place. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


31. Baltimore Ravens (via KC)

Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU | Highlights

After adding a playmaker on defense earlier in the draft, the Ravens use their second first-round selection on a sizable weapon for Lamar Jackson. At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, Marshall perfectly pairs with the speedy Marquise Brown. Marshall has a great catch radius to bring down contested passes and knows how to finish off drives. His 23 touchdowns in 2019 and 2020 rank third in the FBS despite him playing 19 games. The Ravens could also trade back here to add more picks in order to address wide receiver, pass-rusher and offensive line all on Day 2. — Jamison Hensley


Joe Tryon, OLB, Washington | Highlights

With all 22 starters on offense and defense returning from their Super Bowl LV win, the Bucs don’t have pressing needs for starters. They could go any number of directions here. But there is a drop-off at outside linebacker behind Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul. Coach Bruce Arians said they wanted to get faster and physical on defense, too — Tryon fits the bill and can bolster their rotation. Texas’ Joseph Ossai was also in play here. So was Tryon’s UW teammate, defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike, who could be groomed behind Ndamukong Suh. — Jenna Laine

www.espn.com

Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button