The moment we’ve all been waiting for is almost upon us: The 2021 NFL Draft is nearly here! For NFL fans and fantasy managers, it’s the last part of the “offseason” for teams to put the final touches on their rosters. It also means we’ll have a really good idea about potential depth-chart battles and player values for next season.
While I am a fantasy analyst and have done my own “fantasy-style” mock of the first round, I’m a fan too. And with all the mock drafts going on around the world wide web, I figured, why not throw my own “real football” mock draft into the ring? There will be a fantasy twist with some selections, but this is my best guess on who will go where based on what I’ve researched and the folks I’ve talked to in the know.
The first two picks are all but set in stone, so the draft really starts at No. 3 with the San Francisco 49ers. That’s where the mad speculation begins! So without further ado, here’s the first and final version of my first-round mock for the upcoming draft.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
This is the biggest no-brainer of the 2021 NFL Draft. Lawrence is considered the best quarterback prospect to come out of college since Andrew Luck (Stanford). His presence in Jacksonville improves the value of James Robinson, D.J. Chark, and the entire Jaguars offensive attack. He could be the next Peyton Manning.
2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
It seems like the Jets are all-in on Wilson, who is coming off a bananas season with the Cougars and impressed at his Pro Day. New York traded Sam Darnold to the Panthers, so Wilson will take over as the No. 1 quarterback for Gang Green. The question is, will he suffer the same fate as many Jets first rounders?
3. San Francisco 49ers: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
The Niners moved up to third overall to grab a quarterback, and the speculation on who will be picked has been rampant. First, it was Jones, then Ohio State’s Justin Fields. Oh, and don’t forget North Dakota’s State’s Trey Lance. This is an absolute guess, but the people I trust most in the scouting industry are picking Jones here.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
The Falcons don’t have a need at tight end, but Pitts is a generational talent, and the team won’t be able to pass on him. He might not have great fantasy football value as a rookie, but Pitts could emerge into one of the five best tight ends in fantasy football once he’s in the prime of his career. Atlanta could go with a quarterback here, too.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU.
The smart pick here would be to go with Oregon OL Penei Sewell, but I have heard the Bengals feel good about Riley Reiff and believe there will be good linemen to be had on Day 2. That makes Chase the choice. He’ll be reunited with his former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow in an offense that could be a lot of fun to watch.
6. Miami Dolphins: Penei Sewell, OL, Oregon
Pitts and Chase are off the board in this mock draft, so the Dolphins decide to go with the top lineman in the 2021 draft class. Sewell would come right in and start for Miami, giving second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa even more protection in what will undoubtedly be an important season for the former Alabama superstar.
7. Denver Broncos (trade with Lions): Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
I’m predicting a trade with the Lions, with the Broncos moving up from No. 9 to No. 7 to grab their new franchise quarterback. It will cost a bunch in draft capital, but it seems the franchise isn’t all-in on Drew Lock as their long-term option. The Lions are in a complete rebuild, so trading down a few spots for picks makes sense.
8. Carolina Panthers: Rashawn Slater, OL, Northwestern
The Panthers traded for Darnold this offseason, so I’d guess they’ll look to help him on the offensive line. A wide receiver like DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle is also possible here, but Carolina needs to upgrade at tackle, so I’ll go with the best in the 2021 draft class. Slater could start at left tackle or slide inside in his rookie season.
9. Detroit Lions (trade with Broncos): Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
The Lions have not always had the best luck with first-round wide receivers, but Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr., and Danny Amendola are gone, and wideout is a huge need. Based on a high target share projection, Waddle could be the best rookie wideout in fantasy. This could also be his former teammate, Devonta Smith.
10. New England Patriots (trade with Cowboys): Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
The Patriots have made many free-agent moves this offseason, and they’ll remain aggressive in the draft by moving up to get Fields. While he could end up going to the 49ers or Broncos, I say Fields winds up with coach Bill Belichick and behind Cam Newton to start 2021. He’ll be the team’s new franchise quarterback.
11. New York Giants: Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama
The Giants added Kenny Golladay as a free agent, but that doesn’t mean they are out of the wide receiver market in the draft. GM Dave Gettleman has a lot riding on the success of Daniel Jones, so he’ll give him yet another weapon in the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. It’ll be put up or shut up time for Danny Dimes in 2021.
12. Philadelphia Eagles: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
I would have mocked the Eagles to land either Waddle or Smith, but both Crimson Tide stars are off the board. As a result, the team will shift its attention to filling the void at cornerback. Even after trading down to No. 12 in an offseason deal with the Dolphins, Philadelphia still gets what many believe is the best corner in the draft.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Christian Darrisaw, OL, Virginia Tech
Los Angeles needs help at cornerback behind Chris Harris Jr., so I wouldn’t be very surprised if the team went with South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn in this spot. Of course, protecting their franchise quarterback, Justin Herbert, is also a great move here.
14. Minnesota Vikings: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC
The Vikings have a need at edge rusher and offensive line, but I see them going with Vera-Tucker. Remember, the team released Riley Reiff before the start of free agency, so finding a new man to protect the blind side of Kirk Cousins makes sense.
15. Dallas Cowboys (trade with Patriots): Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
As a Cowboys fan, I know this team has no bigger need (and many of them) than on the defensive side of the ball. Dallas would add extra draft capital by trading out of No. 10 and still land one of the three best cornerbacks in the 2021 draft class.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
The Cardinals have been rumored to have interest in moving up for one of the top wideouts in the class, but the departure of Patrick Peterson leaves a need at the cornerback position. Farley would fill that void very well for coach Kliff Kingsbury.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
The Raiders have a desperate need on their offensive line and could decide to grab help here, but Parsons has top-10 talent and will be tough to pass on at this point in the draft. He does have off-the-field issues, however, but this is a good spot for him.
18. Miami Dolphins: Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan
The fantasy analyst in me wants the Dolphins to take Clemson RB Travis Etienne, but this is about real football, and Miami needs an edge rusher. There will be a few good ones on the board at this point, but Paye might have the highest ceiling.
19. Washington Football Team: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
Washington could go with offensive line help at this spot, but I think they’ll look to improve their linebackers. Grabbing Owusu-Koramoah, a versatile athlete who played all over the place for the Fighting Irish is a good get for coach Ron Rivera.
20. Chicago Bears: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
I don’t think the Bears will trade up to get a quarterback (though they might try), and one of their other big needs is at cornerback to replace the departed Kyle Fuller. Newsome is an athletic player who has seen his stock rise as a first-round prospect.
21. Indianapolis Colts: Samuel Cosmi, OL, Texans
The Colts have a new quarterback in Carson Wentz, and they’ll be looking to bolster their offensive line depth following the retirement of Anthony Costanzo. Cosmi is one of several rookie players at the position who makes sense to help protect Wentz.
22. Tennessee Titans: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
The Titans lost Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith as free agents, so the team needs to bolster its cast of pass-catchers. Bateman could come right in and become a starter opposite A.J. Brown. This would be a terrific scenario for fantasy footballers, too.
23. New York Jets: Teven Jenkins, OL, Oklahoma State
Once again, I’m having dreams of Travis Etienne dancing in my head due to my love of fantasy football. However, the Men in Green can wait at running back and take a player in Jenkins who’ll help protect their new franchise quarterback, Zach Wilson.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Najeh Harris, RB, Alabama
The fantasy analyst in me couldn’t pass this one up. The Steelers have a need at running back, and Harris would be a perfect fit. A potential three-down back at the NFL level, he would bring immediate RB2 starter value in most redraft leagues.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
The Jaguars could go a bunch of different ways here, as they could use help on their offensive line or another receiver to help Lawrence. I think they can fill those spots in Days 2 and 3, and Moherig would fit to help bolster their defensive backfield.
26. Cleveland Browns: Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky
The Browns added both John Johnson and Jadeveon Clowney as free agents, and the move to further add to the defense continues with the selection of Davis. The Cleveland D/ST could wind up being a top-10 option in fantasy football leagues.
27. Baltimore Ravens: Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami (FL)
From a fantasy standpoint, grabbing a player like LSU’s Terrace Marshall Jr. here is a more attractive proposition. I think the Ravens can wait on that position until Day 2 and will instead land Phillips. He’s a potential quarterback hunter at the next level.
28. New Orleans Saints: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
The Saints could go with a wide receiver in this spot, someone like Terrace Marshall Jr. or maybe Bateman if he falls to this point. The team also has a big need on the defensive side of the football, and Collins would come right in and be a starter.
29. Green Bay Packers: Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU.
The Packers’ top needs coming into this draft are wide receiver, cornerback, and offensive line. I think they’ll appease Aaron Rodgers after taking Jordan Love in Round 1 last season and give him another weapon in the passing attack with Marshall.
30. Buffalo Bills: Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes aren’t getting any younger, so the Bills decide to go with a young pass rusher in Ojulari. The team could also go with Joe Tryon out of Washington at this point, but getting an edge rusher is certainly a priority here.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: Alex Leatherwood, OL, Alabama
The Chiefs have added Joe Thuney and Kyle Long as free agents to improve their offensive line, but they could still use an upgrade over Martinas Rankin at tackle. Leatherwood fits the bill and would come in and help protect Patrick Mahomes.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State
I can see the Buccaneers going in a few directions here. Alabama DT Christian Barmore makes sense, as does Michigan OL Jalen Mayfield. I’ll go with the talented Oweh, who could go much higher than this based on other team’s draft grades.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for all of the latest breaking fantasy football news and the best analysis in the business!