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NFL Mock Draft 2021: Edition 1 (Early Edition)

Trevor Lawrence, No. 1 to NY Jets

While there is still plenty of football to be played this fall and winter, the reality is that this wacky year is coming to its inevitable conclusion in a month. Soon enough we will have a National Champion and a Super Bowl Champion and on the flip side, teams looking ahead to a (hopefully!) normal 2021 campaign. A loaded quarterback class and several big-name college football opt-outs will make this 2021 NFL Draft especially interesting and chaotic. Obviously plenty will change between now and next spring, but it is never too early to start thinking about what the top of the Draft might look like.

1. New York Jets

Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

Not since Andrew Luck back in 2012 have we seen a quarterback prospect with as much hype as Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence has been the projected No. 1 pick in 2021 since his freshman season and the junior signal-caller has done little to change that view. While he'll face hefty competition, Lawrence remains the best bet to be the No. 1 pick for the New York Jets, a team in the midst of an 0-11 season. The Clemson product has all the tools you look for: size, arm talent, toughness, and intelligence. Rumors of him staying put another year to possibly avoid a trek to New York are foolish; he will go to the NFL this year and he will be a high selection.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars

Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

Don't be shocked if Justin Fields and Lawrence are the primary challengers for the top spot, with Fields ending up going a pick later. Fields might not have had the historical freshman year Lawrence had, but he followed that up with a Heisman Finalist showing last fall, and he once again is in the hunt for college football's most prestigious award. He appears to be a fairly easy selection for Jacksonville, even if Gardner Minshew returns in 2021. Minshew has been a great story, but he's not a true franchise quarterback, and doesn't even come close to the talent of Justin Fields. It only makes sense for the Jags to start anew with the OSU product.

3. Cincinnati Bengals

Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

Joe Burrow's season-ending injury a few weeks ago made it clear what Cincinnati needs near the top of the 2021 cycle: offensive line help. They need to keep Burrow upright, and what better way to do that then picking college football's best linemen, Oregon's Penei Sewell. Sewell opted out of the 2020 season, but he was so good in '19 that he earned Heisman votes. He's the type of franchise tackle that every NFL team wants protecting their franchise QB.

4. Washington Football Team

Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

The top three of this Draft are almost certain to change and evolve but in this scenario, things get really interesting for Washington at four. They have a whole host of options available, but a third QB in the top four seems like a realistic possibility. Trey Lance played in just one game in 2020, but his 2019 showing asserted himself as a legitimate Top 10 prospect. He's got a live arm and is a great athlete, and already a fabulous decision-maker for his age. Washington appears ready to move on from Dwayne Haskins Jr. and Alex Smith is no long-term solution, making this selection more obvious.

5. Los Angeles Chargers

Kwity Paye, DL, Michigan

The Chargers have their new franchise quarterback in Justin Herbert, but the defense has been their Achilles Heel during the 2020 campaign. Adding a skilled pass rusher is always a good bet, and Kwity Paye has a good chance to be the first D-Linemen off the board. Paye is a tremendous athlete for his size (6'4", 270 pounds) and has the type of temperament you want in a Top 5 pick. He's well-liked by his UM teammates and really smart, twice being an All-Big Ten Academic selection.

6. Dallas Cowboys

Patrick Surtain Jr., CB, Alabama

Although their defense has been slightly better down the stretch, Dallas desperately needs to upgrade that side of the ball. Enter Patrick Surtain Jr., who has been a regular starter at Alabama since his freshman year, and a guy who has asserted himself as one of the best defenders in this draft cycle. Surtain is long and athletic, and he should be able to fit any type of defense necessary.

7. Atlanta Falcons

Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami (FL)

Despite investing a bunch of money and draft picks into their front seven, Atlanta's pass rush remains mediocre at best. With so many skill position players set to go high off the board, they should be in fairly good position to land a skilled defender like Gregory Rousseau. Rousseau is another player who opted out of 2020, but he had 15.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman a season ago and is a relentless defensive presence.

8. New York Giants

Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU

I'm never sure what direction Giants GM Dave Gettleman will go in during the Draft, but improving their weapons around Daniel Jones seems like a smart move. Ja'Marr Chase was absolutely unstoppable as a sophomore in 2019, before opting out of this year. He's insanely talented, and should pair up well with Darius Slayton, who will be more comfortable in a complementary role.

9. Detroit Lions

Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

With a new coach and GM set to take over in Detroit, the Lions will be a real wild card over the course of the next few months. They have talent on this roster, but the defense is still full of holes. Best player available seems like a good approach in this situation, and Micah Parsons is undoubtedly the best linebacker in the 2021 cycle. He can play inside or outside 'backer, and is the type of rare defensive weapon that can completely alter football games.

10. Miami Dolphins

Rashawn Slater, OL, Northwestern

With the selection acquired from Houston in the Laremy Tunsil deal, Miami gets some offensive line help of their own in Northwestern's Rashawn Slater. Playing at a school like Northwestern, Slater doesn't get a lot of national attention, but he allowed zero sacks and just one QB hit in 11 starts as a left tackle last year. He's a superb run blocker, which should help open doors for a Miami ground attack that has been nearly nonexistent the last couple seasons.

11. Carolina Panthers

Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

This selection may be relatively surprising considering Teddy Bridgewater's play in Carolina this year, but Bridgewater's long injury history makes him a suspect franchise QB. Instead, the Panthers take a chance on Zach Wilson, who has gone from a relative unknown to a legitimate Heisman contender. Wilson doesn't have the natural talent of a Lawrence or Fields but he's got a rocket of an arm and he's incredibly accurate. He seems like a nice fit with Matt Rhule, especially at pick 11.

12. Denver Broncos

Derion Kendrick, CB, Clemson

Denver's pass defense numbers aren't bad by any means, but the starting corner combination of A.J. Bouye and Bryce Callahan is pretty mediocre. They seem likely to upgrade the position in the Draft, and I'm a huge Derion Kendrick fan. The converted receiver has gravitated to the corner spot incredibly well thanks to his athleticism and ball skills. With more time he should get even better, making him worthy of a Top 15 pick.

13. San Francisco 49ers

Wyatt Davis, OL, Ohio State

The Niners have been ravaged by injuries on both sides of the ball, dropping them to a pretty favorable draft spot. They could be in store for a quarterback if one were to drop but in this scenario, the more likely direction is offensive line. Wyatt Davis is the best interior O-Linemen in this cycle, and he'd immediately add some serious bite to the San Fran rushing attack.

14. Minnesota Vikings

Christian Darrisaw, OL, Virginia Tech

There are lot of spots Minnesota could improve but none more obvious than an offensive line that remains one of the NFL's worst. They'll have numerous options to choose from at pick 14, although I'm sure they are hopeful a combination of Sewell/Slater/Davis drops to them. Christian Darrisaw is far from a big name but he was incredibly productive at Virginia Tech and looks like an NFL vet already.

15. New England Patriots

Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

No matter who starts at quarterback for New England going forward, the Patriots absolutely must upgrade their weapons around them. That may be drafting a receiver, or a special tight end such as Kyle Pitts. Pitts has been an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses all season and he'll acclimate to the NFL quickly. He's certainly a different TE than Gronk, but has his type of talent.

16. Chicago Bears

Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas

Chicago is going to have to address the quarterback question at some point, but nobody makes much sense here with Lawrence, Fields, Lance, and Wilson all off the board. Instead, they use this pick 16 on offensive line, which could also use some insurance. Samuel Cosmi recently opted out at Texas, but a strong 2020 has only strengthened his draft stock.

17. Miami Dolphins

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame

Miami is absolutely loaded with draft picks for the 2021 Draft, meaning this second first-rounder could go any number of ways. My bet would be they go linebacker, a position that will need to be improved if they want to seriously compete in the AFC. Owusu-Koramoah is a pesky defensive presence who has been fabulous over the last two seasons for Notre Dame.

18. Baltimore Ravens

DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

It shouldn't be up for too much debate that DeVonta Smith has been the best receiver in college football in 2020 and he's almost sure to be a first-round selection. Baltimore may have one of the NFL's most exciting players in Lamar Jackson, but they need more weapons around him to really get this offense humming. Smith offers just that, and he projects as a bonafide deep threat with Jackson's huge arm.

19. Philadelphia Eagles

Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

Philadelphia may end up being a playoff team, but this team is far from being a Super Bowl contender. Their offense has a few notable holes, but a major need in the secondary is a more obvious problem. They attempt to fix that by drafting Caleb Farley, who was the first notable name in college football to opt out. Even so, he's one of the premier defensive backs in this Draft.

20. Las Vegas Raiders

Carlos Basham Jr., DE, Wake Forest

Adding edge rushers is always a smart move, and the Raiders could use more to supplement this pass rush. They address the need by adding Carlos Basham Jr., who is one of the best experienced pass rushers in this Draft. He currently has 20.5 sacks over his Wake Forest career, including five on the 2020 season.

21. Arizona Cardinals

Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

The top three corners on Arizona's roster are all set to hit free agency this off-season and even if they do bring back Patrick Peterson, he's getting up there in age. Enter Jaycee Horn, who has impressed in 2020 even playing on a bad South Carolina team. He's even risen up boards above his former Gamecock teammate, Israel Mukuamu, long considered a first-round prospect.

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jay Tufele, DL, USC

Overall Tampa's defensive line has been pretty strong in 2020, but they could lose several names over the off-season, including the aging Ndamukong Suh. This is a good Draft for interior defensive line talent, especially later on in the first. Jay Tufele opted out of 2020 but he was an All-Pac 12 performer in '19 and a constant presence on the Trojan D-Line.

23. Cleveland Browns

Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

Even before Odell Beckham's season-ending injury, there was a sense around the organization that he might not be a Cleveland Brown much longer. The Browns may choose to cut their losses with OBJ and instead focus on a Draft that should once again be loaded with receiver talent. Rashod Bateman checks every box an NFL team could want, and he should be able to get even better in the right system.

24. Indianapolis Colts

Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State

Xavier Rhodes has been a nice little redemptive story, as he has been the Colts No. 1 corner a year after being cut by the Vikings. However, even with Rhodes the cornerback spot is fairly shaky in Indianapolis and they would do well to address it in the Draft. Shaun Wade has been a little bit of a disappointment so far in 2020, but his track record should still land him somewhere in the first two rounds.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars

Christian Barmore, DL, Alabama

With so much talent on the Alabama defensive line, it isn't a surprise Christian Barmore often gets lost in the shuffle. With that being said, he's a first-round talent and the type of prospect that will turn heads at the Combine. Jacksonville got their new franchise QB earlier on, now they go defense with the selection they acquired in the Jalen Ramsey deal.

26. Green Bay Packers

Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU

Green Bay has not taken a receiver in the first round since 2002 when they took Javon Walker. That has to change at some point, and this 2021 receiver class could be the one to do it. Terrace Marshall Jr. has picked up the slack left by the departure of Ja'Marr Chase, leading LSU in nearly every receiving category. He gives the Packers another weapon on the perimeter to keep the defensive focus off of Davante Adams.

27. New York Jets

Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

How awesome would this be? The Jets not only get one of the best quarterback prospects in NFL Draft history, they get his long-time backfield mate in Travis Etienne. With Le'Veon Bell now in Kansas City, New York has leaned on a backfield combination of Lamical Perine and Frank Gore. Even if both do happen to make the roster in '21, an upgrade will be needed.

28. Tennessee Titans

Joseph Ossai, DE/LB, Texas

Tennessee signed Jadeveon Clowney over the off-season in the hopes he would strengthen their pass rush but injuries and poor play have left the former No. 1 overall pick without a sack in 2020. There's a good chance Clowney doesn't return in 2021, leaving the Titans once again searching for more pass rushing help. They find a nice solution here in Joseph Ossai, who can play either end or outside linebacker, and is highly effective at both spots.

29. Buffalo Bills

Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri

If you're looking for an underrated defender to pay attention to in this cycle, look no further than Nick Bolton. Bolton was little known before a breakout 2019 campaign, a season in which he finished with 100 tackles for the Tigers. He has built on that with a 76-tackle showing so far in 2020, asserting himself as the clear leader on the Mizzou defense. The smart, instinctive linebacker fits a need for the Bills at the position.

30. Kansas City Chiefs

Tyson Campbell, CB, Georgia

There was some thought that Kansas City may draft a corner early on in the 2020 NFL Draft, but they waited until the fourth round to do so. I expect they address the need earlier in 2021 by picking Georgia's Tyson Campbell. Campbell has been a regular contributor on the UGA defense since his true freshman year and is incredibly talented.

31. New Orleans Saints

Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State

Depending on what happens with Drew Brees, quarterback is going to be a popular mock for the Saints in 2021. However, they have a more obvious need with a secondary that remains awfully inconsistent. They continue the run on cornerbacks that is likely to happen in this first round by taking FSU's Asante Samuel Jr. The son of a former All-Pro, Samuel has loads of upside, and New Orleans looks like a nice fit.

32. Pittsburgh Steelers

Trey Smith, OL, Tennessee

This is going to be another really quality offensive line class in the 2021 Draft and we're likely to see even more taken than I've projected. The Steelers dip into that class by taking Tennessee's Trey Smith, who would've been a first or second-rounder last season if he had gone pro. While the Vols have been disappointing, Smith remains a notable bright spot. 

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