Don’t Mock Me: A Look at the First Round of the 2021 NFL Draft
Tomorrow is Christmas Day for NFL fans! After a long winter full of blockbuster free-agency trades, speculation, and troll-takes (looking at you, fake Schefter accounts), the draft is finally upon us. This year’s draft, as many other things have been since 2020, is going to be an unusual one. While many schools chose opponents solely within their conference, others decided to play limited games, and still others opted out of the season all together. This lack of consistency within the NCAA leaves an unprecedented cloud of uncertainty over many prospects this season. Good thing for y’all, I’m always up for a good guessing game, lots of idealistic, wishful thinking, and owning shitty takes. Here are my picks for the first round of the 2021 NFL draft (barring trades and other shenanigans, of course)
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
Needs: QB, TE, DL, S, OL
Pick: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
This one is pretty much a no-brainer. Lawrence has been touted as a number one overall pick since his freshman year, and he’s done nothing to diminish his stock. The Jaguars were dreadful with a motley crew of quarterbacks at the helm last year, and their record reflected that. The first step in getting this team back on track is a reliable signal caller, and Lawrence is undeniably that guy.
New York Jets
Needs: QB, CB, OL, RB, Edge
Pick: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
After trading Sam Darnold to the Panthers, the Jets QB depth chart currently consists of *checks notes* James Morgan and Mike White. They are in desperate need of a signal caller, and Zach Wilson is the next best thing behind Lawrence. In 2020, he racked up over 3,500 yards, passed for 33 TDs, and only allowed three interceptions. This pick is iron-clad.
San Francisco 49ers
Needs: QB, CB, DE, OL, WR
Pick: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
This is purely a gut pick. I know it’s basically a toss-up between Fields, Mac Jones, and Trey Lance, but I just think you go with the best guy on the board. We all know Shanahan has an affinity for quarterbacks who can pass out of the pocket. Fields adds an extra dimension with his rushing ability. He ran a 4.44 at the combine. The only quarterback who clocked a faster time was Robert Griffin III, who was named Offensive Rookie of the Year under Shanahan in Washington. It’s Fields for me all day.
Needs: QB, Edge, S, CB, OL, RB
Pick: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
This pick is all decided by what you need vs. what you want. Kyle Pitts is an explosive player who brings all kinds of skills to the table. He’s fast, big, and versatile with elite route-running ability. Although tight end may not be on the list of immediate needs for the Falcons, defenses would have fits trying to defend him, and that would blow the Falcons offense wide open.
Needs: OL, DL, WR
Pick: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
As nice as it would be to reunite the championship duo of Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, the Bengals have to remember what happened last year when they didn’t protect their first overall pick. Burrow ran for his life last season. He saw pressure on 146 of 453 dropbacks over ten games, and we all saw how that turned out after a severe injury. Sometimes you have to pass up on the sportscar for the SUV, and the Bengals would be wise to do so.
Needs: WR, Edge, RB
Pick: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
To be frank, the Dolphins need to give Tua Tagovailoa some weapons. DeVante Parker took a heavy step back last year, and Will Fuller V isn’t exactly the healthiest guy. Ja’Marr Chase would provide this offense with some much-needed play-making ability. Although he sat out the 2020 season due to Covid-19 concerns, in 2019, the LSU product put up almost 1800 yards and 20 touchdowns. He was also sharing the field with Justin Jefferson. Think what he could do on this offense.
Needs: LB, WR, DT, OT
Pick: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
After losing Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, Jr. in free-agency, Detroit needs some playmakers for Jared Goff. I’m sorry to say that Tyrell Williams ain’t a WR1. With Chase presumably off the board, Smith is the next best option at receiver. He was a target machine at Alabama, recording 117 receptions and over 1800 yards in 2020. If there’s anyone who can quick-start Detroit’s offense, it’s Smith.
Needs: QB, LB, CB, OL, WR
Pick: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
Although CB isn’t the top need for the Panthers this season, the depth at the position is concerning. Donte Jackson had a pretty good year in 2020, but he’s entering a contract year, and those are always iffy. On the opposite side of the field, AJ Bouye is entering his 9th year in the league and is also suspended the first two games of the 2021 season. Horn would be the logical fit for this team, as he proved himself a shutdown corner against some of the top receivers in the SEC last season.
Needs: QB, OT, S, LB, RB
Pick: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
I had this written in before the Teddy Bridgewater trade today, but I decided to stick with it. Drew Lock isn’t the guy, and Bridgewater hasn’t proven he’s a bonafide starter. Couple that with John Elway’s propensity for drafting quarterbacks, and I think this one still sticks. Lance is a much bigger body than either of the current quarterbacks on the depth chart, and he has a track record of taking care of the ball. He is also mobile, giving him an edge against pass rushers and opposing defenses.
Needs: CB, LB, OT, DE, S
Pick: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
Oh, what a feeling it would be to reunite Trevon Diggs and Surtain II on a pro field! The duo dazzled at Alabama, and Surtain would add some much-needed versatility and depth to a Cowboys secondary that lost Chidobe Awuzie in free agency. The SEC Defensive Player of the Year would immediately boost a defense that finished 23rd in yards allowed and 28th in points allowed in 2020.
New York Giants
Needs: Edge, OT, ILB, WR, OL
Pick: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Injury to Saquon Barkley aside, the Giants were just awful offensively last season. They ranked 31st in yards and points per game. Although they added Kenny Golladay and a few other receivers in the off-season, the durability of their passing corps doesn’t exactly render much in the way of confidence. Waddle’s speed, agility, and blocking ability is just what the Giants need to pump some life into their pass offense.
Needs: LB, WR, CB, QB, OT
Pick: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
As with Pitts and Atlanta, this is a situation of taking the best player available. Parsons isn’t like any other linebacker in the game. He’s versatile enough to play in any position in a 4-3 scheme, and he is FAST. Although they need receivers, I don’t think Philly can pass on Parsons.
Los Angeles Chargers
Needs: OL, CB, S, Edge
Pick: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
While Justin Herbert earned Rookie of the Year honors last year, it didn’t come without a cost. He was sacked 32 times last season, and if Los Angeles wants Herbert to remain healthy, they have to do something to fix their offensive line. Rashawn Slater is the ideal candidate. Though he opted out of the 2020 season, the left tackle more than impressed against players like Chase Young in 2019. To make this pick even more enticing, the Chargers currently only have one left tackle on their depth chart. If he’s here at 13, book it.
Needs: OL, S, DE, OT, WR
Pick: Alijah Vera-Tucker, G, USC
Minnesota has lots of problems on their team. They traded away several valuable players on both offense and defense that left holes everywhere. This one is kind of a toss-up; although the Vikings defense ranked 27th in 2020, their offensive line was arguably just as bad. They allowed Cousins to be sacked 39 times! With weapons like Cook, Thielen, and Jefferson and with the amount of cap space Cousins is taking up, I think the Vikings benefit by bringing in some o-line help. Vera-Tucker is a versatile lineman with the ability to play guard or tackle and potentially start week one.
New England Patriots
Needs: QB, WR, CB, LB, OT
Pick: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
I know, I know…Everyone says he’s going to the 49ers. He very well could, but if the Belichick I’ve come to know and “love” has anything to say about it, he has his eyes on the next Brady. Cam Newton is only on a one-year deal, and after last year’s lack-luster performance, it’s very possible he ends up on the bench early in the season. Jones has a high football IQ, played for a pro-style offense, and won a National Championship. There’s a lot to like about this guy. The only reason I see him falling this far is his arm-strength and just the pure abundance of quarterback talent available this year.
Needs: CB, OL, TE
Pick: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
After losing Patrick Peterson, the Arizona Cardinals need help in their secondary. Their offense is stout, but when you’re playing in a division with perennial playoff contenders, you need competency on both sides of the ball. Greg Newsome, a big cornerback out of Northwestern would be a perfect fit in this defense. In 2020, he only allowed a 31.6% completion rate and 7.8 yards per catch. His style of play is suited to Arizona’s 3-4 defense, and he could be the piece the Cardinals need to take their defensive play to the next level.
17. Las Vegas Raiders
Needs: OT, DT, Edge, LB, S
Pick: Azeez Ojulari, OLB, Georgia
The Raiders need a lot of pieces to get this team to gel, but their defense needs the most work right now. In 2020, they were ranked the 29th defense in the league. Enter Azeez Ojulari; the Georgia Bulldog led the SEC in tackles for loss, sacks, and forced fumbles last year. If he’s still on the board at 17, he would be a steal for this franchise.
Needs: WR, Edge, RB
Pick: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
The Dolphins have a stable of running backs, but none of them have ever managed to really produce on a consistent basis. Myles Gaskin is listed as the lead back, but in 2020, he only produced 4.1 yards/attempt, good for 40th in the league. If the Dolphins truly want an explosive offense, they should take Najee Harris while they can. He’s a dual-threat back who already has rapport with Tua, but if you need more convincing, he also broke Alabama’s career rushing score record set by none other than Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram.
Washington Football Team
Needs: QB, OT, S, LB
Pick: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
Washington is set at receiver, quarterback, and running back after some savvy off-season moves. Their defense also came on strong at the end of last season, shutting down favorites like the Steelers. Their biggest need at the moment is offensive tackle. Last season, Washington allowed 47 sacks. (How are you not going to protect Alex Smith, guys?) Christian Darrisaw could be the unicorn fix for the WFT’s pass rushing woes. In 2020, he only gave up 6 pressures and allowed ZERO sacks. If this team wants to protect an aging Fitzpatrick, their first step is to shore up the left side, and Darrisaw is the guy to do it.
Needs: OT, CB, WR, QB
Pick: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Farley was arguably the highest projected corner in this draft class until medical concerns after two back surgeries caused him to fall down the draft board. Some think that he’ll even fall to round two. I think the Bears snag an elite corner at a value price. Farley is a perfect replacement for Kyle Fuller, and at pick 20, he’s a steal.
Needs: OT, Edge, WR, QB
Pick: Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan
The Colts lost several defensive players in the offseason, many of whom were pass-rushers. In fact, DeForest Buckner is the only active Colt who had 5 sacks or more in 2020. Paye has the potential to be an elite pass-rusher, as he’s quick and disruptive. It may take time to develop him, but the potential is there.
Needs: CB, WR, OT
Pick: Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss
For some reason, this year is the year of reunions for me: queue Elijah Moore reuniting with A.J. Brown. Both Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith were lost to free agency in the off-season, leaving Tennessee especially thin on receivers. Moore would be able to step into the slot and make an impact immediately. He’s small, at 5’ 9”, but his route running ability makes him elusive to defenders. Don’t believe me? He finished second in the nation in receptions and yards behind Heisman winner DeVonta Smith.
New York Jets
Needs: CB, OL, RB, Edge
Pick: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
With their new quarterback presumably secured with Zach Wilson, the Jets need to upgrade their offensive line to protect him. Teven Jenkins, a first-team All-Big 12 offensive tackle, would be the perfect fit for Mike LaFleur’s offense. The 6’6” 317 pound is an absolute beast when it comes to pass protecting. He also has the versatility to play tackle and guard. If he’s here, expect the Jets to scoop him up immediately.
Needs: CB, OT, OL, RB
Pick: Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
With Harris theoretically going to Miami, Pittsburgh can wait until later rounds for a running back, a la Javonte Williams or Michael Carter out of UNC. Their next big need is to protect an aging Roethlisberger, and following the departure of Alejandro Villanueva, Pittsburgh is in desperate need of a swing tackle. Leatherwood checks all those boxes. During his time at Alabama, he switched between offensive tackle and guard, and at 6’6” and 316 pounds, he’s a force! Going for Leatherwood early would also allow Pittsburgh to create lanes for their next running back. He’s a good pick all the way around.
Needs: TE, DL, S, OL
Pick: Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
As bad as Jacksonville’s offense was last year, their defense was worse, allowing an average of 423 yards per game. Christian Barmore is the guy who could right the ship. As a sophomore in 2020, he was named the College Football Playoff Championship Game Defensive MVP. His improvement between his freshman year and sophomore year was massive. He’s young, but the potential is there to be a game-changer.
Needs: DL, LB, CB, WR
Pick: Jaelan Phillips, OLB/Edge, Miami (FL)
The Browns are stacked on offense, and they upgraded their defensive line and secondary with the additions of Jadeveon Clowney, John Johnson III, and Troy Hill in the off-season. The only logical piece left is a linebacker…enter Jaelan Phillips. Although he had some injury concerns at UCLA that led him to briefly retire from football, Phillips returned and was awarded second-team All-American and second team All-ACC recognition in 2020.
Needs: S, OT, WR, Edge
Pick: Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
The Ravens need a good safety to complement an already stout defense, and TCU’s Trevon Moehrig would be a perfect fit in their scheme. He excels at reading receivers’ routes to cut them off and force turnovers and incompletions. The Ravens could take a receiver here, but based on the needs of the teams in between the 27 and 31, I’d bet they take Moehrig first and go receiver later.
New Orleans Saints
Needs: CB, WR, Edge, LB
Pick: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame (4-3) defense
The Saints are most in need of a cornerback, but one of the pitfalls of going this late in the draft is that it’s hard to find the ones you want. The next big need is LB; Kwon Alexander, Alex Anzalone, and Craig Robertson have all left the team. Owusu-Koramoah, the Butkus Award winner from Notre Dame, would fit perfectly in Dennis Allen’s defensive scheme. His size may raise a little concern, but his athleticism and ability to move sideline to sideline more than makes up for it. Alongside Demario Davis, this would be one hell of a linebacker corps.
Green Bay Packers
Needs: WR, OT, LB
Pick: Terrace Marshall, Jr., WR, LSU
Green Bay neglected to draft a wide receiver last year for Aaron Rodgers, and although they managed to find some level of success, expectations for the season were not met. The Packers need a legitimate slot presence. At LSU, Terrace Marshall made a huge impact during the 2020 season with Jefferson and Chase out. Playing primarily in the slot over the course of seven games, Marshall racked up 731 yards on 67 targets with 10 touchdowns. We all know how Rodgers loves his slot receivers, so keep your eye on this pick.
Needs: RB, CB, Edge, WR
Pick: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
As great as a dual-threat as Josh Allen is, he can’t carry the run game on his own. Last year I said many times that the only missing piece Buffalo needed was an every-down back with explosive power. Travis Etienne fits perfectly with this offense; he has the ability to gain yards after contact while also maintaining the patience to find gaps to break and run. The Bills would be nearly unstoppable with Etienne in the backfield.
Needs: WR, S, OT, Edge
Pick: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
I have Bateman falling this far because of his Covid-19 weight loss, asthma attacks, and lack of playing time during 2020. As far as his skill-set goes, he’s a prolific outside route-runner who can rack up YAC and come out on the winning side of contested throws. Lamar Jackson has never been one to throw deep, but, as last year proved, he has to do more than put the game on his legs. Teams have figured their scheme out, and he needs receivers to take the pressure off him. Bateman would be a great option for their offense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Needs: OLB, DL, OL
Pick: Kyle Trask, QB, Florida
Yep, you knew I was going to throw you for a loop on this last one. The thing is, Brady, no matter how much vegan cocktails he throws back, isn’t going to be in the league forever. If they want the franchise to have success after Brady retires (especially since they’ve signed so many offensive players to extensions), they need a backup plan…a Mahomes type situation. Do I think this will happen? Probably not, but this was my wildcard, and what better time to play it than now?
Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter @Britt_Flinn for more bad takes!