With Super Bowl LV now behind us, all 32 NFL franchises have now shifted their focus to the 2021 season.
NFL free agency -- and the new league year -- is more than a month away. Whether teams take an aggressive or more patient approach in free agency, team needs will look different before the draft than they do today.
In addition, we've already seen one blockbuster trade with Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff swapping home stadiums. Other quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz and Sam Darnold, among others, could soon be on the move.
Based on what we know today, here's how the 2021 NFL Draft could play out:
The Jaguars have had a top-10 pick in 12 of the past 13 drafts, but the franchise has its first-ever No. 1 pick and the timing could not have been better. The presumptive top pick for several years now, Lawrence is arguably the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. Lawrence has outstanding arm strength and throws with touch and accuracy to all three levels of the field to go along with an ability to make plays with his legs.
Not only does Urban Meyer get to begin his Jacksonville tenure with a franchise-changing quarterback, but the team is loaded with draft capital and cap space. No team has more available cap space this offseason and the Jaguars have nine picks in the first five rounds.
There is zero mystery with the first pick, but it gets interesting (in terms of suspense) when the Jets are on the clock. Given a roster full of holes, the Jets could go in a number of different directions here.
Even though Sam Darnold won't turn 24 until June and wasn't necessarily put in a position to succeed, he has missed three-plus games in all three of his seasons and he hasn't yet shown that he's the long-term answer. Wilson has enjoyed a pre-draft rise similar to that of Joe Burrow last year. Wilson isn't the biggest quarterback, but he uses his athleticism to make and extend plays and is especially accurate throwing downfield.
Some of my favorite throws from Zach Wilson this season — the "can make all the throws" cliche rings true with this guy, opens up all parts of the field. pic.twitter.com/0wWhleSqQ8— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) December 23, 2020
Chase opted out of the 2020 collegiate season, but the 2019 Biletnikoff Award recipient would have been the WR1 had he been eligible to join last year's talent-laden crop of wide receivers. As a true sophomore and a 19-year-old, Chase dominated SEC competition to the tune of 84 receptions for 1,780 yards (21.2 Y/R) and 20 touchdowns. Not only did he lead the country in yardage and touchdowns, no receiver had more 15-yard receptions (46) or 25-yard receptions (25) than Chase in 2019.
Based on contract data from Spotrac, Matt Ryan ($40.9 million cap hit) will account for nearly one-quarter (22.99%) of the team's 2021 salary cap. While franchise owner Arthur Blank says that he fully expects Ryan to be back in 2021, using their top-four pick on his heir apparent would make sense here.
While things didn't go as well against Alabama in championship game, Fields showed incredible toughness following James Skalski's targeting ejection as Fields went on to light up a talented Clemson defense for 22-of-28 for 385 yards and six touchdowns in the semifinal game. In his two seasons as Ohio State's starter, the dual-threat quarterback has accounted for 78 total touchdowns -- 63 passing and 15 rushing -- while throwing only nine interceptions over 22 games.
Upgrading the offensive line needs to be one of the team's top offseason priorities. While Sewell opted out of the 2020 season, the 2019 first-team AP All-American was dominant in his true-sophomore campaign and won't turn 21 until October. If Sewell lasts until No. 5, this should be a no-brainer selection.
Other than his slight frame (6-1, 175), what is not to like about Smith? An outstanding route-runner, the sure-handed receiver has been been uber-productive over the past two years.
If Smith had declared last year, he would have joined Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy as first-round receivers. This year, he'll join teammate Jaylen Waddle as first-rounders. Despite the star-studded receiving corps, it was Smith that led the team in receiving yards (1,256) and touchdowns (14) last season. This year, the Heisman Trophy winner really stepped up with the injury to Waddle as he led FBS in receptions (117) and yards (1,856) and is second in touchdowns (23).
Getting Jared Goff back in the trade that sent Matthew Stafford to L.A., it's possible that the Lions go in a different direction with their first pick in 2021. After all, they will have multiple first-rounders in both 2022 and 2023.
That said, the Lions have a potential out with Goff's contract after the 2022 season and Lance is making the jump from playing only 17 games (including only one in 2020) against FCS-level competition. With as much upside as the other top quarterbacks in this draft class, the dual-threat quarterback accounted for 48 touchdowns -- 30 passing and 18 rushing -- and threw only one interception.
With four quarterbacks already off the board, will the Panthers make it five within the first eight picks? Even though Mac Jones isn't a top-eight talent, he won't be available when the Panthers are on the clock in Round 2. And in such a unique draft season, the opportunity to have coached Jones at the Senior Bowl likely means a lot to Matt Rhule and the team's decision makers.
Regardless of who's under center, the team's starting tackles -- Russell Okung and Taylor Moton -- are impending free agents. Even if he lacks ideal length and may eventually kick inside, the way Slater held his own against Chase Young in 2019 is evidence that he can more than hold up outside at tackle at the next level.
Before opting out of the 2020 college season, there was a moment where the 244-pound linebacker was listed as Penn State's top kick returner. Even if perhaps by mistake, that highlights the type of athlete Parsons is. The versatile, three-down linebacker was a first-team AP All-American in 2019 and uses his athleticism, length and instincts to impact the game against the run, in coverage and as a blitzer.
Two of the team's top four corners -- Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie -- are scheduled to become free agents next month. Along with Alabama's Patrick Surtain II, Farley is a top-10 prospect on our NFL Draft Big Board and is in the mix to be the first corner off the board in April. Farley (6-2, 207) had four interceptions and 12 passes defended in 2019 before opting out this season.
In version 2.0 of this mock draft, the Giants went edge rusher and that's certainly a possibility here with both Miami's Gregory Rousseau and Michigan's Kwity Paye still on the board. It's also certainly possible that Waddle is the highest-ranked player still available on Dave Gettleman's big board.
Not the biggest receiver, Waddle is one of the most explosive athletes in the draft and is dynamic in the open field. With Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs off to the NFL, Waddle started the year with four 100-yard games before breaking his ankle. In fact, Waddle (557 receiving yards) outproduced DeVonta Smith (483) through the first four games of the season.
Teams can't have too many corners, yet free agency is about to wipe out the team's cornerback depth chart. One way or the other, the team will need to address the position group this offseason. The 2020 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Surtain II has an NFL pedigree (father was a three-time Pro Bowl CB) with the size and length (6-2, 202) that the 49ers covet at the position.
The reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Justin Herbert has played as well as anyone could have expected in his rookie season. With Hunter Henry entering free agency this spring, Pitts provides some insurance if the team can't re-sign him, but he's a Darren Waller-type playmaker at the position that will help support Herbert's continued development in year two. In addition, Pitts is also the best available prospect here as the No. 6 prospect on our big board.
Trading for Yannick Ngakoue before the start of the season, the Vikings should have had a dynamic 1-2 pass-rush duo with Danielle Hunter and Ngakoue. Not only did Hunter miss all of 2020, but the Vikings traded away Ngakoue only six games into his Minnesota tenure. Even so, the short-term Viking still led the team with five sacks. If the Vikings have their choice of edge rusher here, it may be difficult to resist bolstering the group. Rousseau has outstanding length and burst and was second in the nation in sacks (15.5) in 2019 behind only Ohio State's Chase Young (16.5) before opting out of the 2020 season.
Taking the reigns from Tua Tagovailoa, the fifth pick in 2020, Jones really hit the ground running in 2020 after getting a few starts following Tua's injury in 2019. While Jones lacks the arm strength and athleticism that the top-four quarterback prospects possess, he makes quick reads and throws with outstanding accuracy and touch. Facing only SEC competition before Notre Dame and Ohio State in the College Football Playoff, Jones completed 77.4% of his pass attempts and threw for 4,500 yards (11.2 Y/A), 41 touchdowns and four interceptions last season. Jones numbers were even better in the CFP as he completed 81.3% of his pass attempts for 761 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions.
With Patrick Peterson, Dre Kirkpatrick and Johnathan Joseph set to become free agents, the Cardinals will need to add corners via the draft and/or free agency that can contribute right away. Horn, son of former Pro Bowl receiver Joe Horn, excels in press-man coverage due to his size, physical playing style and a competitive demeanor.
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