2021 NFL mock draft: 4 quarterbacks go in top 7 overall picks

Eric Edholm
·21-min read

In our first crack at a 2021 mock draft, we landed five QBs in the first 32 selections. The same thing happened when we completed our second mock of draft season — it just wasn’t the same five.

Alabama’s Mac Jones has supplanted Florida’s Kyle Trask, whom we now project as a Day 2 selection. And this time around, the first four QBs aren’t placed quite as high as they were in October.

With four landing in the top seven overall selections, we’re projecting something to happen that has never occurred in NFL draft history.

The wild-card prospect will be North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. Taking him in the top 10 picks will require a confident scouting staff following Lance’s 17-start career at the FCS level and only one game this season.

The draft order will change between now and the end of the regular season, and we’re operating amid a lot of unknowns, including several vacant general manager positions.

(Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
(Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

1. New York Jets

Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence

Sam Darnold says he wants to be “a Jet for life.” That’s either adorable or sad.

If he stays, it’s about a 99.6 percent chance he’d be Lawrence’s backup. More likely, the Jets will see what they can get for Darnold in a trade. There would be more than a few teams interested in the QB who doesn’t turn 24 until June.

Drafting Lawrence makes the Jets’ head coaching job more attractive. That and the idea that there’s nowhere to go but up.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars

Ohio State QB Justin Fields

The Jaguars don’t have a general manager, and they might not have their new coach yet. They need a quarterback after starting three different ones this season, none of whom appear to be the future. Fields has been mostly terrific this season, even if some teams might view BYU’s Zach Wilson as having the higher ceiling.

3. Cincinnati Bengals

Oregon OT Penei Sewell

There have been seven top-five picks at offensive line in the past decade. Sewell will make it eight in an 11-year span come April. Is he a perfect prospect? No, despite Draft Twitter’s hagiography proceedings being well-established by now.

Either way, the Bengals are desperate for help protecting the edges. Sewell won’t turn 21 until he’s a month into his rookie season, so there could be an adjustment period. Translation: If he’s not Anthony Munoz on Opening Day, please cut Sewell a little slack.

4. Dallas Cowboys

Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley

A tricky spot here, and yet it could be one that the Cowboys exploit. Assuming the Cowboys still believe Dak Prescott is the guy, and if there’s a buyer willing to move up for Zach Wilson (or Fields if Wilson goes at No. 2), a trade down would make a lot of sense. And there would be an added benefit of controlling who gets the pick (i.e. not the Washington Football Team or Philadelphia Eagles).

There’s a chance the Cowboys could slide down — maybe to Atlanta’s spot? — and still get the 6-foot-2 corner. He opted out this season, and there would be risk in taking a player who hasn’t suited up in over a year. But the Cowboys badly need defensive help at multiple spots.

5. Los Angeles Chargers

Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater

Five feels a bit high for a prospect whose arm length (32 3/4 inches) falls below the typical 33-inch threshold and whose best NFL position — tackle or guard — has been debated in scouting circles.

Ohio State's Chase Young, left, and Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater, right, had a terrific head-to-head battle in 2019. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
Ohio State's Chase Young, left, and Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater, right, had a terrific head-to-head battle in 2019. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

Slater’s performance in 2019, prior to opting out for this season, was tremendous. His outing against Ohio State’s Chase Young won’t soon be forgotten, allowing a single pressure in their head-to-head battle last season. The last two Wildcats to land in the top five — Otto Graham in 1944 and Chris Hinton in 1983 — worked out pretty well.

Can Slater go this high? Well, we certainly didn’t have Andrew Thomas going fourth overall at this point a year ago. And, whew, do the Chargers need to better protect Justin Herbert.

6. Carolina Panthers

BYU QB Zach Wilson

Teddy Bridgewater has been fine this season, and they likely remain on the hook with him through 2021 given his salary. But it’s hard not to wonder how this offense — with three good receivers, plus a healthy Christian McCaffrey — might look with more firepower at QB.

Enter Wilson, who would be a dangerous addition on a Joe Brady-run offense. There’s nothing Brady couldn’t call, and not a throw Wilson couldn’t make, assuming Brady doesn’t start getting head-coaching attention this offseason.

If the Panthers don’t take Wilson, the Falcons probably would be on him with the next pick.

7. Atlanta Falcons

North Dakota State QB Trey Lance

Real talk: We don’t know who the GM or head coach will be. We don’t know how team owner Arthur Blank feels about Matt Ryan staying. We don’t know how Ryan feels about that either. And we certainly have our fair share of questions and concerns about Lance following his one-game 2020 season and limited body of work.

Keeping Ryan aboard for the next head coach and giving Lance the equivalent of a redshirt season makes sense. Does Ryan want any part of that? He could force Atlanta’s hand. Otherwise, the Falcons could find a cheap veteran as the bridge to the future. Lance’s ceiling as a prospect is extremely high, even if determining his floor now feels specious.

One caveat: The Falcons finish with two games against the Buccaneers and one against the Chiefs. Atlanta could end up 4-12 and leapfrog Carolina in the draft order.

8. Miami Dolphins (via Houston Texans)

LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase

There is a legitimate debate to be had here. Assuming a wide receiver is in play with the pick the Dolphins acquired in the Laremy Tunsil deal, the question becomes: Which one?

Certainly choosing either Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle would receive Tua Tagovailoa’s approval. Chase, however, can’t be overlooked following a 20-TD season in 2019. We went with Chase for now. If Smith, who is having an exceptional season, tests moderately well, he could be the choice. And if Waddle is cleared to run, he’s absolutely in play.

The Dolphins need a receiver who can separate vertically and turn a short pass into an explosive play. All three can do it. The race for WR1, like a year ago, will be fascinating.

9. Philadelphia Eagles

Alabama CB Patrick Surtain Jr.

They wouldn’t take another receiver this high, would they? We considered it for a minute, but after as much draft capital they’ve sunk into the position the past few years, taking another one at No. 9 feels like a reach.

Instead, we’ll target another problem area: CB2. Darius Slay is well-paid on the one side, and he has been mostly good. The other outside corner spot appears to be an issue. Avonte Maddox hasn’t worked out on the exterior, and Nickell Robey-Coleman and Cre'Von LeBlanc (both free agents-to-be) are best working inside.

Surtain would give the Eagles a press-man corner with length who can battle big receivers outside.

10. New York Giants

Penn State LB Micah Parsons

The Giants are a tough team to read because they could be picking in the top 10 … or at No. 19 as NFC East champs. The range of prospects available at those two spots could vary wildly. Plus, we technically don’t know if GM Dave Gettleman will be back, although we’ve laid out the case for why he’s earned that right.

Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons could be a Day 1 starter in the NFL. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons could be a Day 1 starter in the NFL. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

If Gettleman makes the pick, he’d have no problem taking an off-ball linebacker in Parsons, who opted out of this season after it was clear his draft stock was strong. Parsons also adds third-down pass-rush ability as a bonus. Pairing him with Blake Martinez would help improve the defensive talent, and they’d be protected by one of the biggest lines in football.

11. Detroit Lions

Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle

Here’s another “who will be GM and head coach?” situation. Also, is Matthew Stafford in the picture? If the Lions end up being bent on trading him amid a rebuild, that would dramatically change this scenario.

Almost certainly, wide receiver is an area of concern. Kenny Golladay is a pending free agent whose price tag could be massive. Marvin Jones is, too. It’s almost certain at least one of them won’t be back.

Watch Nick Saban somehow convince Waddle, who is out for the season with an ankle injury, to come back to Bama in 2021. He did it with DeVonta Smith.

But in this scenario, he’d step into a big role for the Lions and be a blur on that Ford Field turf.

12. San Francisco 49ers

South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn

Horn’s father, former Saints wideout Joe Horn, had some massive games back in the day against the 49ers. In this scenario, his son would be the long corner this defense craves. They must plan for life after Richard Sherman and Jason Verrett, who has been great but is an annual injury concern.

The younger Horn entered this season with zero picks. He had two in a standout performance against Auburn and played well this season in seven games before opting out. Horn can be handsy in coverage and will allow his technique to slip, and No. 12 could be viewed as too high for him to go off the board.

But having a mentor such as Sherman — assuming he returns in 2021 — would be an outstanding baton pass to the next generation.

13. Denver Broncos

Michigan EDGE Kwity Paye

If the Broncos end up picking higher, perhaps a quarterback will be in the discussion. Maybe Mac Jones at No. 13 won’t sound wild in April. That’s a chat for another day.

It makes sense to start thinking about life after Von Miller following his freakish ankle injury and his contract is due to expire following the 2021 season.

Paye possesses elite athleticism and has been the clear standout on a disappointing Wolverines defense this season. Although his pass rush arsenal could use refinement, his burst, thick build and bull-rush prowess give him an excellent template to grow.

14. Minnesota Vikings

Miami EDGE Gregory Rousseau

Raise your hand if, back in July, you thought the Vikings’ top-four snap leaders on the edge would be Ifeadi Odenigbo, Jalyn Holmes, D.J. Wonnum and Hercules Mata'afa. No one needs to put their hands down after reading that.

The Vikings will get Danielle Hunter and Kenny Willekes back from injured reserve next year, but it sure would be nice to have another pass rusher in the bullpen. Enter Rousseau, the wonderfully gifted talent who opted out of this season and stood on his 15.5-sack freshman performance while entering the draft.

League opinions are more ambivalent on him. Rousseau remains a project until proven otherwise. When projects are 6-foot-6, 260 pounds and ooze talent, they tend to go high.

15. Chicago Bears

Virginia Tech OT Christian Darrisaw

There’s a scenario where Mitchell Trubisky is back next year. (Don’t laugh.) No matter who the Bears’ starting quarterback is for 2021 — and they most certainly will be adding at least one — the blocking in front of that person must be better.

A month ago, I was wondering whether Darrisaw could crack the top 50. Now, as I mock him here to the Bears, I’m convincing myself he can go top 20. He has started three years now at left tackle and could start in Chicago on Day 1. He’s on a 700-plus snap streak without allowing a sack.

16. New England Patriots

Florida TE Kyle Pitts

If you had asked me one minute prior to starting this mock how high Pitts would go, I’d have said, “top 15 easily, likely top 10.” Welp. This is just how it worked out. I’ll probably be wrong in due time, but here we are.

Florida TE Kyle PItts is one of the most physically impressive specimens in the 2021 NFL draft. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)
Florida TE Kyle PItts is one of the most physically impressive specimens in the 2021 NFL draft. (Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)

Call him a tight end if you want, or for Bill Belichick’s sake, call Pitts a giant receiver so his reputation for swinging and missing at the position can be salved. At 6-foot-5 and change and nearly 240 pounds, Pitts moves like a 220-pound wideout.

Adding that would be one way to boost the offense, although Belichick’s 2020 defense is going to bother him all offseason. Had Pitts not been here, I would have mocked New England a player on that side of the ball.

17. Las Vegas Raiders

Notre Dame LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

Adding multiple versatile defenders who play with speed is a must. One quarter of every season for the next three or four years, they’ll be trying to stop Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert. They need players such as Owusu-Koramoah, who can be a factor on all downs.

GM Mike Mayock’s connections to the Irish program won’t hurt. Since about midseason in 2019, Owusu-Koramoah has been one of the best all-around defenders in college football.

18. Baltimore Ravens

Alabama WR DeVonta Smith

How does this happen? Every year we seem to see a great prospect fall to the Ravens at a position they could use help at. Smith might be this year’s CeeDee Lamb — the highly productive, not-quite-ideal-physical-traits player who has no business tumbling to where they land.

Imagine Smith running posts and over routes all day with Lamar Jackson. One thing I’ve loved about Smith is seeing him work back toward the ball on off-script plays, so pairing him with a QB such as this would be a heaven-made match.

19. Washington Football Team

Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman

Like with the Giants, their ultimate draft position could vary wildly. Up higher, a quarterback might be more in play, unless Ron Rivera and Co. see Mac Jones as a top-20 option.

Bateman wasn’t as dialed in and productive this season as he was in 2019, but part of that blame has to go toward the regression of the entire Gophers’ passing operation. As a 20-year old sophomore, Bateman showed alpha-dog traits despite not being exceptionally big or fast. He could be a perfect complement to Terry McLaurin, Logan Thomas and Antonio Gibson for whoever WFT goes with at QB.

20. Arizona Cardinals

Georgia EDGE Azeez Ojulari

I considered two other Bulldogs here, cornerbacks Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes, to help a secondary that could stand to add pieces to help defend the terrific receivers in the NFC West.

But a good pass rush can help that effort, too, and Ojulari has been a firebrand rusher in his redshirt sophomore season. Perhaps he’s not as developed as Texas’ Joseph Ossai, but Ojulari — assuming he declares — could have sky-high upside.

21. Dolphins

Missouri LB Nick Bolton

I’ve gone back and forth on whether Bolton should be (or will be) a Round 1 pick. The Dolphins don’t seem to fret over those decisions. Some of their 2020 picks were reaches in terms of league value, but they took players who fit their system and their culture. We can respect that.

Bolton is a tone setter with his hitting and intensity, and his athleticism is good enough to project him in this spot. He’d be a major upgrade over Elandon Roberts, whose snaps are on the decline for a reason.

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Texas EDGE Joseph Ossai

The guess here is that they franchise tag Chris Godwin and hope to get new deals done for Lavonte David and Shaq Barrett. Adding another pass rusher sure couldn’t hurt.

Ossai might end up being projected to go after someone such as Penn State’s Jayson Oweh or Wake Forest’s Carlos Basham once we get into the new year. But Ossai has been impactful in the “Jack” role for an otherwise underwhelming Longhorns team.

23. Indianapolis Colts

Alabama QB Mac Jones

The Colts sure seem like a possible Carson Wentz destination, and it certainly would make sense to add a veteran QB to the mix — assuming this is the end of the line for Philip Rivers — for a budding, young roster that should take another step in 2021.

Alabama quarterback Mac Jones has a chance to crack the first round next year. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)
Alabama quarterback Mac Jones has a chance to crack the first round next year. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

But Jones feels like someone whom GM Chris Ballard and Co. will end up falling for if they can’t go the veteran route at QB. It also feels like they could go with a short-term vet (or keep Rivers another year) and target Florida’s Kyle Trask on Day 2.

24. Cleveland Browns

Tulsa LB Zaven Collins

Hop on the train, kids. The 6-4, 260-pound Collins easily has been one of our favorite studies in this strange, sometimes-frustrating season. He’s a large, fluid athlete, the type of linebacker who carries old-school size with new-school versatility.

And if the Monday night classic vs. the Ravens was any indication, this Browns’ defense sure could use a dose of playmaking ability on the second level. Collins might not be the type of player used to spy Lamar Jackson, but his coverage instincts, rush potential and solid run-stopping skill all make him a top-40 prospect who should contribute early.

25. Jets (via Seattle Seahawks)

USC OL Alijah Vera-Tucker

Vera-Tucker protected the edge nicely this season after kicking out from left guard to left tackle. The Pac-12 returning to action helped his cause, allowing NFL teams to decide whether he’s best off playing inside or outside.

The good news for the Jets is that they could use help at both spots. Vera-Tucker wouldn’t play left tackle with Mekhi Becton looking like a foundational piece there, but his versatility would allow the Jets to ID their best starting five and give Trevor Lawrence some better pockets than they have done for Sam Darnold.

26. Jaguars (via Los Angeles Rams)

Michigan OT Jalen Mayfield

Once more, the Jags are following the Jets in Round 1, and they also land some much-needed OL help for their new quarterback. Mayfield was hit with an injury, and MIchigan’s season is over, so he was limited to two games in his return after initially opting out.

It’s too bad because talent-wise, he’s a first-rounder. Will his shortened season cost him? Mayfield also won’t turn 21 until May, and with about a thousand college snaps to his name, it’s hard to know if he’ll be instant coffee in the NFL. And at what position? Some teams like him better at guard. Mayfield has played only tackle, mostly on the right side, in college.

27. Tennessee Titans

Florida State CB Asante Samuel Jr.

We don’t yet know if the Titans botched their 2020 first-round pick of Isaiah Wilson, but our best guess is that they’ll want something of a surer thing after taking a risk on a low-floor, high-ceiling prospect and getting nothing from him in Year 1.

Samuel has size concerns, and his season is done after opting out early. But his playmaking knack is similar to that of his father, who hauled in 51 career interceptions in his career, mostly with the Patriots and Eagles.

And of course, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel was the elder Samuel’s teammate for five seasons that included a few title runs. This is a position Tennessee likely will want to upgrade in the offseason. If Noah Igbinoghene can be drafted in this range this past spring, then Samuel Jr. absolutely can.

28. Buffalo Bills

TCU S Trevon Moehrig

The Bills have been playing Taron Johnson in the nickel, and he has had his moments, but there’s room for an upgrade. They looked long and hard last cycle at Kyle Dugger, whom the Patriots drafted early in Round 2 this year.

So we’ll give the Bills a similar type of player in Moehrig, who can play deep safety (where he has made some big plays this season) or in the slot, where he’s surprisingly effective. It’s not clear if there’s a Round 1 safety next year, but if there is, the 6-2, 205-pound Moehrig looks like the guy.

29. Green Bay Packers

Florida WR Kadarius Toney

Are you happy now? Toney isn’t quite like the wide receivers who have been connected to the Packers in recent years, and his size, durability and character concerns must fully be vetted. But his tackle-breaking and open-field prowess is simply phenomenal.

Toney can line up in the slot, outside or even in the backfield, which is an added dimension to consider, especially if the Packers can’t keep Aaron Jones. And for a team with an anemic return game, Toney would provide additional value.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers

Alabama C-OG Landon Dickerson

I don’t know if Dickerson will end up a first-round pick, given that he’s not a special athlete and he carries potential medical red flags. But his terrific mass, toughness and run-blocking prowess could go a long way toward helping an offense, namely the ground game, that has hit the skids down the stretch. The Steelers have stayed relevant for years by drafting this mold of blocker.

31. New Orleans Saints

Clemson CB Derion Kendrick

The past few years around this time, when it comes around to the Saints’ first-round pick, I often shrug. What we think might be pressing needs sometimes end up not being as high on the Saints’ wish lists. And of course, there’s the Drew Brees/Taysom Hill/some-other-QB elephant in the room.

Is cornerback the team’s most pressing issue? We’ll see, but they have salary-cap concerns this offseason and two highly paid corners. Kendrick has risen fast after switching from receiver a few years ago, allowing only seven catches in seven games this season.

32. Kansas City Chiefs

Penn State EDGE Jayson Oweh

Adding a receiver or offensive lineman would make sense. But the Chiefs also should look at adding pressure players on the edge with Frank Clark not meeting expectations this season.

Oweh is more likely to rise above this spot once he tests at the scouting combine, potentially blowing the roof off the place. His low sack total (seven in his career, one in his past 12 games) a concern until you turn the tape on and see him occupying backfields on the regular.

Teams without first-round picks

57. Los Angeles Rams

Stanford OT Walker Little

Little was bandied about as a possible first-round pick entering the 2019 season, but a torn ACL in the opener ended his season after 72 snaps. Then after opting out of this season, the 6-7, 315-pound Little announced he’d begin his draft prep. He’s sort of the Trey Lance of OT prospects — what we’ve seen is good, but it’s a small sample size. The Rams must think of life after Andrew Whitworth, who may not play next year.

59. Seattle Seahawks

Iowa DT Daviyon Nixon

The Seahawks’ top pick annually elicits a collective “who?!” chorus from the 12s. Nixon might not yet be a known name, even in draft circles. Still, the 6-2, 305-pounder has been terrific this season, and he could declare for the draft after redshirting in 2018 and nearly transferring in 2019 before Iowa’s coaches talked him out of it. He flashes power but also can shoot gaps and disrupt blocking schemes.

70. Houston Texans

Ole Miss WR Elijah Moore

Welcome to the 2021 NFL draft, Houston! Early in Round 3, it still should be easy to find quality at receiver. At an estimated 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, Moore is slightly built. But he would give the Texans a potential gamebreaker — three 200-yard receiving games this season — out of the slot and an upgrade over Randall Cobb. Moore also has punt-return experience.

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