In a couple of hours, NFL draft prospects will hopefully hear their names called, changing their lives forever, and this year, players will be allowed to attend the NFL draft in-person held in Cleveland, Ohio, if they choose so. Unlike last year when the NFL draft was virtual, commissioner Roger Goodell, who has recently become fully vaccinated, will be allowed to greet and give his famous hug when players walk across the stage after hearing their name called.
With the clock ticking down until the draft begins, I decided to predict the first ten picks on “what I would do” if I were a General Manager based on what every team needs. The top two picks are almost certainly stamped, with Jacksonville and New York selecting their quarterback of the future. Read and find out who I think the remaining eight teams should select and all the question marks and analysis involved with those selections.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson University
After finishing the 2020 season with a 1-15 record, Jacksonville is looking to start fresh with the number one pick under new head coach Urban Meyer. We have known for a while that Trevor Lawrence will be the number one pick, so there are no surprises here. He has been one of the most highly anticipated and sought-after prospects since his senior year of high school. Lawrence finished his college career with 10,098 passing yards, 90 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and a tremendous 34-2 overall record. He led Clemson to a national championship his freshman season, making him the first true freshman quarterback to start as a national champion since Jamelle Holieway in 1985 for Oklahoma. According to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., Lawrence is the fourth highest-graded quarterback entering the NFL draft ever. He will immediately become the face of the Jaguars franchise and hopefully, change the organization and culture around.
2. New York Jets – Zach Wilson, QB, Brigham Young University
From what we have heard, this appears to be the direction the Jets are heading. This became more clear and obvious when the Jets decided to move on from the former No. 3 overall pick, Sam Darnold, and trade him to the Carolina Panthers. Wilson has plenty of upsides and had a very good season despite the lack of competition he played. Wilson finished third in all of college football last season in passing yards (3,692) and passing touchdowns (33). Newly acquired head coach Robert Saleh will look to surround Wilson with offensive weapons, which former head coach Adam Gase did not do for Darnold. The Jets made a couple of offseason moves, acquiring wide receivers Corey Davis and Keelan Cole to help surround Wilson. The Jets also hold the 23rd overall pick, which they could use to draft another wide receiver or a running back such as Najee Harris out of Alabama or Clemson’s Travis Etienne.
3. San Francisco 49ers – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State University
This pick was definitely a toss-up for me. I was going back and forth between quarterbacks Mac Jones, Justin Fields and Trey Lance, who all have a strong case to be the third pick in this draft. Justin Fields seems like the better fit in the 49ers system under head coach Kyle Shanahan. Fields had a phenomenal sophomore season in 2019. At times there was speculation of him being the number one pick in this draft. However, a down junior season for his standards, including two horrific performances against Big Ten foes Northwestern and Indiana, drastically affected his draft stock. His work ethic, drive and love for the game were all in question for some NFL teams. But some of that narrative changed when he put on a show at both of his pro days including running an electrifying 4.44 40-yard dash in front of scouts, evaluators and coaches from almost every NFL team. I believe Justin Fields is the best fit in San Francisco even though most people including myself believe the 49ers will select QB Mac Jones from Alabama.
4. Atlanta Falcons – Kyle Pitts, TE, University of Florida
This was another tough call because there is a good chance new head coach Arthur Smith takes a quarterback with this pick, although Kyle Pitts is a generational talent who has a chance to become one of the greatest tight ends of all time. Most draft experts believe Pitts is the second-best overall player in this draft behind Trevor Lawrence. Pitts has tremendous hands and is a matchup nightmare for defenses because of his size. In only eight games played last season, Pitts recorded 43 receptions for 770 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Pairing Pitts up with speedy and deep threat receiver Calvin Ridley and a top-3 wide receiver in the league, Julio Jones, automatically makes Atlanta one of the scariest offenses in the NFL.
5. Cincinnati Bengals – Penei Sewell, OL, University of Oregon
Even though there are four highly sought-after wide receivers on the board including Ja’Marr Chase who most evaluators believe is the best wide receiver prospect since Julio Jones, the Cincinnati Bengals offensive line last season was an absolute disaster. Cincinnati NEEDS to protect former number one overall pick Joe Burrow who is still recovering from an ACL injury entering his second season. Burrow was sacked 32 times in only 10 games played last season, and if you want Joe Burrow to stay healthy, you have to protect him. I expect the Bengals to take Sewell with this pick, who in 2019, started 13 games, and did not allow a single sack in 926 snaps, and in nine games, he didn’t allow a single pressure or hurry. Even though I have the Bengals passing up on a wide receiver in the first round, I don’t believe they will pass up on a receiver in the second round.
6. Miami Dolphins – Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Louisiana State University
If Ja’Marr Chase is still on the board at number six, it would take a lot for the Dolphins to pass up on a talented receiver like him with this pick. The LSU wide receiver opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19, but the season before, Chase produced one of the greatest single-seasons any wide receiver has ever had. Chase racked up 84 receptions for a country leading 1,780 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns and was awarded the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the best receiver in the country. The Dolphins added former Texans wide receiver Will Fuller to pair alongside Devante Parker this offseason to help second-year quarterback and former top-5 pick Tua Tagovailoa. But Miami will still need another offensive weapon to help keep up with all the high-powered offenses in the NFL.
7. Detroit Lions – DeVonta Smith, WR, The University of Alabama
The Lions lack a WR1, however, Devonta Smith can change that. Smith, despite concerns about his size, weighing only 175 pounds, has great speed, hands, and route running. Last season Devonta Smith became the first wide receiver to win the Heisman trophy since Desmond Howard in 1991 and only the fourth overall after he set SEC records in both receiving yards (1,856) and receiving TD’s (23). The Lions acquired quarterback Jared Goff from the Rams this offseason for Matthew Stafford and are now looking to bring in a weapon to help him on the outside. Detroit lost its young star receiver Kenny Golladay to the Giants as well as Marvin Jones Jr. to the Jaguars, which does not make up for the acquisitions of receivers Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams. Detroit has a lot of holes in both their offense and defense that needs to be taken care of and selecting Heisman trophy winner Devonta Smith is the first step in that process.
8. Carolina Panthers – Rashawn Slater, OG/T, Northwestern University
With the top two receivers off the board in Ja’Marr Chase and Heisman trophy winner Devonta Smith, I have the Panthers selecting Rashawn Slater. The Northwestern tackle opted out of the 2020 college football season due to COVID-19 but had a sensational pro-day workout. Carolina could go in multiple directions with this pick including filling voids at linebacker, cornerback, tight end and receiver, but I believe the Panthers will draft a guard to try and help protect newly acquired quarterback Sam Darnold from the Jets.
9. Denver Broncos – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State University
This was another pick I was going back and forth about. This pick all depends on the Broncos belief and trust they have in the quarterback and former second-round pick Drew Lock. Most people don’t believe Drew Lock is the answer in Denver and taking quarterback Trey Lance to backup Lock would be the solution, even after acquiring quarterback Teddy Bridgewater from the Carolina Panthers. There are a lot of question marks with Lance, who is still only 20, because only played one game last season before he left North Dakota State to train and get ready for the NFL draft. Lance’s lack of experience and competition is also a question mark because it turns Lance into a boom-or-bust prospect that has the highest ceiling out of all the quarterbacks in this draft. I believe Lock has flashed enough for him to be the starting quarterback for at least another season. With that being said, there are too many empty holes on this team to select a quarterback, and one of those holes is at the linebacker position. Even though Parsons opted out of the 2020 season to declare for the NFL draft, I believe Micah Parsons will be one of the biggest steals in this draft. In 2019 Parsons had 109 total tackles, five sacks and four forced fumbles. Parsons’ playmaking and skillset are too hard to pass up on at this pick.
10. Dallas Cowboys – Patrick Surtain II, CB, The University of Alabama
The Cowboys are in desperate need of help on the defensive side. Patrick Surtain II is arguably the best and most polished defensive player in this draft, and pairing him up with last year’s second-round selection Trevon Diggs would be a step in the right direction. The Cowboys defense gave up a staggering 481 points and 6,183 total yards to their opponents last season. So I expect the Cowboys to take defensive players with the majority of their 10 draft picks. Surtain II is a shutdown and complete corner who has the potential to be one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. Surtain II has great size at 6’2”, patience and movement skills. In 40 games played for Alabama, Surtain II recorded 116 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, four interceptions, three forced fumbles and 24 passes defended. The Cowboys had one of the worst passing defenses in the NFL last season and I think it’s a no-brainer Dallas selects Surtain II to fix that.
My mock draft starts with Jacksonville selecting their face of the franchise in Trevor Lawrence to Dallas filling a major hole on the defensive side. Even though trades are a huge part of the NFL draft, I decided to keep the current draft order and make selections based on what every team is in need of. Watch and find out where your favorite college players land and who your favorite team selects in the 2021 NFL draft, which starts tonight at 8pm and ends on May 1.