NFL mock draft 2021: What might happen if New York Jets don't take quarterback at No. 2
The 2021 NFL draft may still be three months away, yet recent league events are already beginning to shape it. For starters, the playoffs have nearly set the first-round order – Super Bowl 55 left to determine the Buccaneers or Chiefs as 2020 champions and the final team to select in Round 1.
And then there’s the quarterback carousel, which has cranked up unusually early. We’re only a few weeks into the 2021 calendar, and already Philip Rivers has announced his retirement, the Lions and Matthew Stafford have apparently chosen to terminate their marriage, and it seems Deshaun Watson wants out of Houston.
The fallout will be reflected in my first mock draft of the year:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson: This selection could make Cincinnati's choice of Joe Burrow a year ago seem dramatic by comparison. Lawrence has long been considered a generational prospect on the order of John Elway, Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck. He has the size (6-6, 200), arm strength, accuracy, mobility and grasp of the position to immediately jumpstart the Jags in concert with new coach Urban Meyer. Clemson didn't lose a regular-season game in Lawrence's three years as a starter, a stretch when he threw 90 TD passes and ran for 18 scores but was picked off just 17 times. The Georgia native should also put quite a charge into the Jags' often tepid fan base.
2. New York Jets – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon: This draft's intrigue begins with the Jets, who seemed destined for a union with Lawrence until their Dec. 20 defeat of the Rams changed everything. New York has myriad options at quarterback – draft one, pursue Watson or stick with underachieving 2018 first-rounder Sam Darnold among them. The latter two options only deepen the intrigue as GM Joe Douglas assesses the best ways to strengthen his supporting cast – and trading what should be a highly coveted selection might be the best way to do that. But Douglas, whose inaugural draft pick was LT Mekhi Becton last year, is a proponent of building his team from the inside out. In this scenario, taking Sewell (6-6, 330) – a gifted player who can bolster pass protection and elevate run game production with his mauling pancakes – would seem like the logical way for Douglas practice what he preaches.
3. Miami Dolphins (from Houston Texans) – Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU: Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith has perhaps recently overshadowed Chase, who opted out of playing in 2020. But before Smith won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's preeminent receiver, Chase did so in 2019, setting a Southeastern Conference record with 20 TD catches – a mark Smith surpassed in 2020 – while averaging 21.2 yards per reception. Chase has plenty of speed and strength, excellent hands, high-points the ball with great effectiveness and is deadly in the red zone. He also runs every route, including a willingness to work over the middle – and this may be where his sturdier frame (6-0, 208) will distinguish him from Smith. Chase and DeVante Parker would make a nifty receiving combo for Tua Tagovailoa in Miami ... assuming Tua and this pick aren't packaged to the Texans for Watson.
4. Atlanta Falcons – Zach Wilson, QB, BYU: He's been steadily rising and could well be the Jets' choice at No. 2 if they decide against chasing Watson and keeping Darnold. Wilson, who has exceptional arm talent, blossomed as a junior, completing 73.5% of his passes, 33 going for TDs with just three picked off. A solid athlete, he also ran for 10 scores. Matt Ryan is still playing at a high level in Atlanta. But he'll be 36 in May, and this may be the new regime's best shot at getting a worthy successor.
5. Cincinnati Bengals – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida: Another team that could go in a number of directions, but the priority should be putting more talent around Burrow – and that could mean O-line help ... or it could mean adding a playmaker like Pitts. The 6-6, 239-pounder caught 43 balls in 2020, averaging 17.9 yards per reception and finding the end zone 12 times. And given how the Chiefs' Travis Kelce continues to illustrate what a dominant tight end can do for an offense, why shouldn't the Bengals take a chance on a guy who could do a lot of damage between WRs Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins?
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6. Philadelphia Eagles – DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama: He spent much of 2020 gliding through opposing defenses to the tune of 117 catches for an Alabama record 1,856 yards and those SEC record 23 TDs. Teaming him with 2020 first-round WR Jalen Reagor could be the optimal way to get QB Carson Wentz back on track in 2021. However Smith will have to prove his 170-pound frame can hold up in the NFL and that he can deal with stronger corners who will doubtless try to jam him at the line ... unlike, say, what he encountered against Ohio State in college football's championship game.
7. Detroit Lions – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State: They're not parting with Stafford to turn the keys over to Chase Daniel or David Blough. Fields is a multi-dimensional threat who was at his best with six TD passes against Clemson in the college playoff semifinals. However that performance was bracketed by several checkered ones, including his final one against Alabama. Still, Fields' estimable potential suggests the Lions might even have to move up a few spots to get him.
8. Carolina Panthers – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State: His game reminds you of Cam Newton in his prime ... and at 6-3 and 224 pounds, Lance isn't all that much smaller than the former Panthers MVP. The pandemic limited the Bison to one game in 2020, but Lance was sublime in 2019 with 28 TD passes and zero INTs to go along with 1,100 yards and 14 TDs on the ground. He could probably use extra time to acclimate to the NFL, and apprenticing behind Teddy Bridgewater might be an ideal situation.
9. Denver Broncos – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State: Vic Fangio's defense relies on OLBs Bradley Chubb and (presumably) Von Miller creating pressure off the edge ... which means you need a pair of capable off-ball backers patrolling behind the line. Parsons fits the mold, and there could well be a need here with Alexander Johnson headed for free agency.
10. Dallas Cowboys – Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech: They began reloading the position last year, following Byron Jones' departure, by drafting Trevon Diggs. With Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis potentially out the door in a few months, good chance Dallas continues upgrading on the corner with the 6-2, 207-pound all-Atlantic Coast Conference performer, who skipped the 2020 season due to the pandemic.
11. New York Giants – Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern: Despite investments they've made in the offensive line, it continues to be a weakness after a season when QB Daniel Jones was sacked 45 times in 14 games. Slater was a guard in high school but played both tackle spots for the Wildcats and could settle in opposite 2020 first-rounder Andrew Thomas.
12. San Francisco 49ers – Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama: The Niners will need to replenish their corner depth chart with the contracts of Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, K'Waun Williams and Ahkello Witherspoon all set to expire. Even if they were sticking around, Surtain – son of the former Pro Bowler whose name he shares – would be a worthy selection following a season when he was named SEC defensive player of the year
13. Los Angeles Chargers – Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC: Whether he's deployed at guard or tackle, where the Trojans used him in 2020, Vera-Tucker solves a problem for the Bolts, who better start adding safeguards around QB Justin Herbert.
14. Minnesota Vikings – Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami (Fla.): The Vikes had an NFC-low 23 sacks in 2020, coach Mike Zimmer saying of his defense: "worst one I've ever had." Rousseau, who's only 20, had 15½ sacks in 2019, winning ACC defensive rookie of the year honors before opting out in 2020. His 6-7 frame also makes him a threat to bat down balls when he can't get to the quarterback. He and Danielle Hunter could form quite a combo in a division ruled by Aaron Rodgers.
15. New England Patriots – Mac Jones, QB, Alabama: It didn't go so well in Year 1 post-Brady. Hard to believe the Pats' 2021 quarterback is currently on their roster, though it wouldn't be a surprise if Stafford, Jimmy Garoppolo or another veteran lands in Foxborough. Barring that, Jones, who flourished under Bill Belichick's close friend Nick Saban in 2020, could be the best option if this team goes back to deploying a capable point guard. Jones completed 77.4% of his passes and threw 41 TDs last season but obviously benefited from having outrageous talent all around him.
16. Arizona Cardinals – Najee Harris, RB, Alabama: They've got some defensive holes to patch but could slap the franchise tag on late-blooming pass rusher Haason Reddick. However the 6-2, 232-pound Harris – relatively early as this might be to take a back – seems uniquely suited to ease the load and punishment on QB Kyler Murray (11 rush TDs in 2020) in the red zone. Harris has 50 TDs over the past two seasons, 39 on the ground, but can also the catch the ball (43 receptions in 2020). And with RB Kenyan Drake unsigned, Harris also plugs a spot.
17. Las Vegas Raiders – Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami (Fla.): He replaced Rousseau in 2020, responding with eight sacks and 15½ tackles for loss. The Raiders only managed 21 sacks in 2020 and desperately need to bolster their pass rush given their inability to close out games.
18. Dolphins – Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU: Miami looks set on the corners with Xavien Howard and Byron Jones but could certainly use help on the back end. Moehrig has nice range, plays with good instincts, can cover and is willing to come up and make a hit – all traits coach Brian Flores would love.
19. Washington Football Team – Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama: Yep, he'll make it four Crimson Tide wideouts drafted since 2020, sure to join Smith, Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy. Waddle, who averaged 18.9 yards per catch at 'Bama, would bring the big-play capacity the WFT could use while making defenses that opt to double-cover Terry McLaurin think twice. Waddle can also make a difference on special teams, though the ankle injury that derailed his 2020 season came on a kickoff.
20. Chicago Bears – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota: If they are going to be more than a one-and-done playoff team under Matt Nagy, the Bears simply must improve offensively. Elevated quarterback play is obviously incumbent, but wideout also looms as a priority with Allen Robinson headed for free agency. Bateman has a similar frame (6-2, 210) and similar game.
21. Indianapolis Colts – Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech: Anthony Castonzo's retirement leaves a void at left tackle for Indy's otherwise stalwart offensive line. Barring a free agent signing or shuffling All-Pro LG Quenton Nelson outside, the path of least resistance might be drafting steady Darrisaw and leaving the other four starters in place.
22. Tennessee Titans – Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan: He'll need to get more productive off the edge after totaling 11½ sacks in 28 career games for the Wolverines. But Paye appears to have the tools to get better and certainly has the size (6-3, 270) to play in four- or three-man fronts for Tennessee, which managed only 19 sacks in 2020.
23. Jets (from Seattle Seahawks) – Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson: A sweet dual threat out of the backfield, he can be what Le'Veon Bell was supposed to be for this offense. Etienne averaged nearly 1,800 yards from scrimmage and 22 TDs over his final three years with the Tigers and would certainly ease the burden on Darnold, Watson or whoever is New York's next quarterback.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan: It's high time they reinvested in the offensive line, especially with LT Alejandro Villanueva's contract up. Mayfield may not be ready to man the blind side immediately – he did play there at times for the Wolverines – but should be able to lock down the right side right away.
25. Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams) – Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama: The Jags' 31st-ranked defense is in tatters, but Barmore – he was a wrecking ball against Ohio State in the national championship game – can certainly hasten the rebuild as a three-down interior disruptor.
26. Cleveland Browns – Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington: He would be an upgrade over free agent Larry Ogunjobi, able to defend the run and penetrate on passing downs – especially if he's lined up next to DE Myles Garrett and able to exploit one-on-one blocking.
27. Baltimore Ravens – Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU: The offseason began with GM Eric DeCosta answering questions about how he'll improve QB Lamar Jackson's receiving corps. One option is adding Marshall, whose size (6-4, 200) would be a nice foil to diminutive Hollywood Brown's speed. Marshall's production as LSU's No. 1 receiver in 2020 (48 catches for 731 yards and 10 TDs in seven games) mirrored what he did in the No. 3 role in 2019 (46/671/13 in 12 games).
28. New Orleans Saints – Joe Tryon, DE, Washington: Numerous questions in The Big Easy with QB Drew Brees poised to retire, per multiple reports, and a salary cap that needs a major haircut. The defensive line is also going to take a hit with DT Sheldon Rankins and DE Trey Hendrickson (career-high 13½ sacks) both slated to walk. Tryon had eight sacks when he last played in 2019 and would maintain the pass rush depth behind DEs Cam Jordan and Marcus Davenport.
29. Green Bay Packers – Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida: Maybe GM Brian Gutekunst finally gets a bona fide complement to Davante Adams and more help for QB Aaron Rodgers? Toney had a breakout senior year for the Gators, amassing 70 catches for 984 yards and 10 scores. He's got the explosive ability to consistently burn No. 2 corners and should only blossom while learning how to fine-tune his routes with help from the masterful Adams.
30. Buffalo Bills – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame: The Butkus Award winner as the country's top college linebacker and ACC defensive player of the year in 2020, he's a rangy type who could fill a number of roles as an every-down hybrid for this defense. Owusu-Koramoah will probably have to bulk up his 220-pound build, but he could be a great fit for a team that may not bring LB Matt Milano back.
x-31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa: Depth looms as an issue on the Bucs' D-line, especially if DT Ndamukong Suh, 34, calls it a career or signs elsewhere in the offseason. An interior force, Nixon is fresh off earning Big Ten defensive player of the year honors after posting 5½ sacks and 13½ tackles for loss in eight games.
x-32. Kansas City Chiefs – Tutu Atwell, WR, Louisville: Imagine having DeSean Jackson and Tyreek Hill on the field together ... and with Kelce working underneath. That would basically be the dynamic supremely swift Atwell, listed at 5-9 and 165 pounds, could add to an offense in which he'd only have to beat single coverage. An all-ACC selection in 2019 when he led the conference with 1,272 receiving yards, Atwell would be more than a luxury to K.C., which stands to lose WRs Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson in free agency.
x-Super Bowl 55 winner will select 32nd
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