Friday, March 5, 2021

Pre-Free Agency 2021 NFL Mock Draft

Kevin Hanson's mock drafts have been among the most accurate:
- 2020: #14 of 210 mock drafts
- 2019: #6 of 138 mocks
- 2018: #5 of 137 mocks
The Huddle Report
- #4 in 5-year accuracy (2016-2020)
- Mock Draft Champion in 2015

As we approach the start of NFL free agency in less than two weeks, some teams will address their biggest needs, others won't, but we could get a clearer picture of which prospects (positions) some teams may target early in the draft next month.

So far this offseason, Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz have new cities to call home, Philip Rivers has retired, Drew Brees may (or may not) retire, etc. The biggest quarterback domino to potentially fall is whether or not the Houston Texans will trade franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson before the draft?

Watson's status could shake up the top eight of the draft as the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos (among others) are expected to pursue a trade for Watson.

For now, here's a look at how the 2021 NFL Draft may play out based on what we currently know:

NFL Mock Draft - Round 1

1. Jacksonville Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

New mock, same pick for the Jaguars. Of course, this pick won't change between now and April 29th.

As noted in our 2021 NFL Mock Draft, 3.0, this marks the first time in franchise history that the Jags own the rights to the first overall pick and it couldn't have come at a better time. While no quarterback or prospect is a "sure thing," Lawrence is a generational talent that is arguably the best quarterback prospect to enter the league since Andrew Luck.

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

Given the holes up and down their roster, the Jets could go in a number of different directions here.

Even though Sam Darnold won't turn 24 until June and wasn't put in a position to succeed, he has struggled with durability and 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. Although not the biggest quarterback in this draft class, Wilson uses his athleticism to make and extend plays and is especially accurate throwing downfield.

3. Miami Dolphins - Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU

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.

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

It was an up-and-down season for Fields, but he showed tremendous leadership and toughness in the semifinal win over Clemson as he threw for 385 yards and six touchowns in that game. A two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, the dual-threat quarterback has accounted for 78 total touchdowns -- 63 passing and 15 rushing -- while throwing only nine interceptions over 22 games as Ohio State's starter.

5. Cincinnati Bengals - Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

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, the No. 2 prospect on our 2021 NFL Draft Big Board should be a no-brainer selection.

MORE: Noah Sewell is a top-10 pick in our way-too-early 2023 NFL Mock Draft

6. Philadelphia Eagles - Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

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 in 2020, 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. It's certainly possible that the Eagles brass have Waddle ranked higher than Smith on their board.

MORE: Eagles have the easiest 2021 NFL schedule

7. Detroit Lions - DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

The Lions have signed Tyrell Williams, who missed all of 2020, to a one-year contract this week, but many of the team's top receivers -- Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Mohamed Sanu and Jamal Agnew -- are unrestricted free agents as well.

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).

8. Carolina Panthers - Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

As much as the Texans may not be motivated to trade away their franchise quarterback, the Panthers will be one of the more aggressive teams in the pursuit for Deshaun Watson's services. Based on this mock, the Panthers draft a high-upside prospect that could sit behind Teddy Bridgewater for a year (or two, if necessary).

While Lance is making the jump from only 17 games -- including only one in 2020 -- against FCS-level competition, the dual-threat quarterback accounted for 48 touchdowns -- 30 passing and 18 rushing -- and threw only one interception in collegiate career.

9. Denver Broncos - Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

The Broncos released cornerback A.J. Bouye last month and Bryce Callahan is entering a contract year. 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.

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

Two of the team's top four corners -- Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie -- are scheduled to become free agents. The 2020 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Surtain II has an NFL pedigree (father was a three-time Pro Bowl CB that coached him in high school) with outstanding size (6-2, 202) and length that new coordinator Dan Quinn will covet.

MORE: Dak Prescott 2021 Fantasy Football Profile

11. New York Giants - Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

In the previous iteration of this mock, the Giants selected Alabama's Jaylen Waddle. With Waddle (and the top three receivers) off the board, Gettleman still gives Daniel Jones another weapon.

A mismatch in the passing game, Pitts is a top-four prospect on our big board so it's possible that he's the best prospect available on Gettleman's in this scenario as well. A playmaker in the mold of Darren Waller, Pitts won the John Mackey Award, given to the nation's top tight end, and was the first tight end ever to be a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award. Pitts had 43 catches for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2020.

12. San Francisco 49ers - Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan

Due to injuries to Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, Kerry Hyder Jr. (8.5) led the team in sacks last season. Ford's (roster and injury) status going forward is unclear.

Not only is Paye an outstanding run defender, but his elite athletic profile (previously topping Bruce Feldman's freaks list) gives him enormous upside as a pass-rusher.

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

The Chargers hit a home run with rookie quarterback Justin Herbert, who won the 2020 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, but the offensive line has remained a perennial need for the franchise. Slater may not have the ideal length that teams covet in tackles, but the way he held his own against Chase Young (Ohio State) in 2019 suggests that he can more than hold up at tackle at the next level. Even if he kicks inside, his selection would be a step towards improving an offensive line that ranked 32nd (last) in PFF's 2020 final offensive line rankings.

14. Minnesota Vikings - Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

In all previous iterations of our mock, we've slotted an edge rusher for the Vikings and that still remains a strong possibility. Especially if the Vikings move on from Riley Reiff to create cap space, Darrisaw would make sense here as well. A three-year starter, Darrisaw has continued to improve each season. His athleticism and length will allow him to handle NFL-caliber edge rushers and he's been dominant as a run blocker as well.

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

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.

16. Arizona Cardinals - Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

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.

Continue to 2021 NFL Mock Draft: Picks 17-32

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