Everything begins with a quarterback in football, and so will the story of the 2021 NFL draft.
It’s almost a certainty we have five quarterbacks selected in the first round on Thursday. As of now, I believe there’s a 50-50 chance they are taken in the first nine picks, with potentially the first four names we here called in prime time being signal callers (which would be a first).
There have been three straight quarterbacks selected to open a draft in the Super Bowl era twice before: 1971 (Jim Plunkett, Archie Manning and Dan Pastorini) and 1999 (Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith).
Indeed, the draft has begun with a quarterback 25 times in the Super Bowl era — 15 times already this century.
There’s a good chance we witness history in five days when we kick off in Cleveland.
In the immortal words of Bart Scott: “Can’t wait!”
The NFL draft has become a nice appetizer before our main course in September. A mock version of said draft is meant to educate, and even entertain. At very least, it helps you pass the time.
This is an attempt at identifying the best players available in this season’s draft class, and which teams they match up well with considering the updated draft order (according to NFL.com).
The closer we get to draft day, the more I attempt to match what teams will actually do with their draft picks as opposed to what I believe they should do.
Last season, I was the fourth most accurate (out of 109) NFL draft prognosticator according to The Huddle Report (most accurate in print). I’m seventh over the past five years.
Follow me on Twitter @UTEddieBrown so we can continue the conversation.
Here’s my second-to-last 2021 NFL mock draft:
1. Jacksonville (1-15) — Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson, Jr.
I’d carve this in some cave somewhere if this were 5,000 years ago. Lawrence is the total package. My only gripe, if you injected me with some sort of gripe serum, would be he locks onto his first read occasionally. This is usually because he has complete confidence in his talented receiving corps and expects them to win. That’s it. That’s all I got. Top needs: QB, OT, Edge
2. N.Y. Jets (2-14) — Zach Wilson, QB, BYU, Jr.
If the Jets were willing to deal this pick, I’m positive they would have made the deal with the 49ers for the No. 12 overall selection and two future first-rounders. Which means they’re locked in on a player and it’s likely Wilson. The former Cougar didn’t disappoint at his pro day. Top needs: QB, OT, Edge
3. San Francisco from Miami through Houston (4-12) — Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota St., So.
You don’t move this much draft capital unless it’s for a quarterback. The scuttlebutt has Kyle Shanahan hand-picking Mac Jones because of his accuracy. Lance is an actual better fit with a higher ceiling. None of the top QB prospects have his experience selling play-action dropping from under center, which is saying something, because Lance has the least overall experience of any of the five prospects. Sitting a season behind Jimmy Garoppolo while being coached up by an offensive mastermind will provide him the best opportunity to reach his immense potential. Top needs: CB, OL, Edge
4. Atlanta (4-12) — Justin Fields, QB, Ohio St., Jr.
I imagine new GM Terry Fontenot will want to target Matt Ryan’s heir apparent — the last time the Falcons had a top-five pick, they took Ryan third overall in 2008. Top needs: Edge, S, RB
5. Cincinnati (4-11-1) — Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU, Jr.
It could be seen as a personal affront to Joe Burrow if owner/GM Mike Brown doesn’t pick an offensive lineman in the first round. But Burrow is reportedly pushing the Bengals to draft his former college teammate. A lot of people are forgetting how good Chase, the 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner, actually was during the Tigers national title run as a 19 year old. Remember, Justin Jefferson was considered Robin to his Batman. Top needs: OL, WR, DL
6. Miami from Philadelphia (4-11-1) — Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida, Jr.
It’s scary that a 10-win team with such a good coach and plenty of young talent also has four picks in the top 50. Top needs: WR, RB, LB
7. Detroit (5-11) — Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon, Jr.
In most drafts, Sewell would be the consensus No. 1 overall pick so the value is incredible here. He’d pair nicely with Taylor Decker, giving the Lions bookend tackles. Top needs: WR, LB, DB
8. Carolina (5-11) — Rashawn Slater, OL, Northwestern, Sr.
The Panthers addressed their quarterback situation with a trade for Sam Darnold. They haven’t had consistent blindside protection since All-Pro Jordan Gross retired in 2013. Top needs: OL, CB, LB
9. Denver (5-11) — Micah Parsons, LB, Penn St., Jr.
A classic Vic Fangio defense usually features a playmaking linebacker at its core. This would be the first time in my lifetime the first defensive player off the board lasts this long. Top needs: Edge, OT, LB
10. Dallas (6-10) — Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama, Jr.
The Cowboys defense was plain awful in 2020. Surtain, a former five-star recruit, has NFL DNA (father was an All-Pro corner who played 11 seasons) and prototypical traits. Top needs: OL, DB, DL
11. N.Y. Giants (6-10) — DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama, Sr.
An offense featuring a healthy Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay, Evan Engram and Smith would only expedite Daniel Jones’ development. Top needs: OL, Edge, LB
12. Philadelphia from Miami through San Francisco (6-10) — Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama, Jr.
Is it me or does it seem like the Eagles are always in need of help at receiver? Waddle would be an ideal replacement for DeSean Jackson. Top needs: WR, CB, LB
13. L.A. Chargers (7-9) — Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC, Jr.
Signing All-Pro center Corey Linsley is a step in the right direction for a very bad offensive line. Vera-Tucker was one of the best offensive tackles in the country, but could also shine on the interior in the NFL. The Chargers could use his versatility. Top needs: OL, CB, DL
14. Minnesota (7-9) — Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech, Sr.
Coach Mike Zimmer didn’t hold back when he called his defense the “worst one I’ve ever had,” but the offensive line is priority here considering the Vikings don’t have a pick in the second round. Top needs: OL, S, Edge
15. New England (7-9) — Mac Jones, QB, Alabama, Jr.
It was clear Cam Newton isn’t the long-term answer at quarterback last season. Jones certainly benefitted from a great supporting cast in Tuscaloosa, but he’s an accurate, decisive passer who projects as a more durable version of Garoppolo. Top needs: QB, CB, DT
16. Arizona (8-8) — Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina, Jr.
All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson leaving in free agency creates a gaping hole in the Cardinals’ secondary. Top needs: CB, RB, DT
17. Las Vegas (8-8) — Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU, Jr.
The Raiders must address their atrocious secondary. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s ideal free safety would be 6-foot-2, 200 pounds with great range and ball skills. In other words, he’d be Moehrig. Top needs: OT, S, LB
18. Miami (10-6) — Kwity Paye, Edge, Michigan, Sr.
Paye is already an impressive run defender against the spread offense, which is becoming increasingly important in the NFL, and there are athletic indicators he will continue to improve as a pass rusher. Top needs: WR, RB, LB
19. Washington (7-9) — Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame, Sr.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Taylor Heinicke isn’t the quarterback of the future for the Football Team — or Ryan Fitzpatrick for that matter — but there’s not a QB on the board worthy of this pick. Top needs: QB, LB, OT
20. Chicago (8-8) — Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma St., Sr.
I have confidence Jenkins would beat out Germain Ifedi, who the Bears recently signed to a one-year deal, for one of the starting tackle spots. Top needs: QB, WR, CB
21. Indianapolis (11-5) — Azeez Ojulari, Edge, Georgia, So.
I expected the Colts to be aggressive seeking their next quarterback in the trade market and they didn’t disappoint. The next biggest priority is to continue building their pass rush. Top needs: Edge, OT, CB
22. Tennessee (11-5) — Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech, Jr.
The Titans will need to address their secondary (after releasing Kenny Vaccaro and Malcolm Butler) in a major way. I imagine a recent back surgery will damage Farley’s stock a bit — even though he should be ready for training camp. Top needs: WR, CB, DT
23. N.Y. Jets from Seattle (12-4) — Jaelan Phillips, Edge, Miami, Jr.
If past is prologue, once head coach Robert Saleh has his quarterback situation figured out, he’ll focus on building a pass rush. Top needs: QB, OT, Edge
24. Pittsburgh (12-4) — Najee Harris, RB, Alabama, Sr.
The top offensive tackles are off the board so the Steelers take a running back who fits their style perfectly. Top needs: OT, RB, LB
25. Jacksonville from L.A. Rams (10-6) — Christian Barmore, DL, Alabama, So.
Second-year edge rusher Josh Allen was the only bright spot on a dismal pass rush in 2020. Top needs: QB, OT, DT
26. Cleveland (11-5) — Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa, Jr.
Signing Jadeveon Clowney won’t stop the Browns from drafting an edge rusher, especially someone with the versatility of Collins. Top needs: LB, Edge, DL
27. Baltimore (11-5) — Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota, Jr.
Lamar Jackson still needs a true No. 1 wide receiver. Bateman’s versatility fits perfectly with former first-rounder Marquise Brown, 2020 third-round selection Devin Duvernay and veteran free-agent signee Sammy Watkins. Top needs: Edge, C, LB
28. New Orleans (12-4) — Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern, Jr.
The Saints lost starter Janoris Jenkins in free agency. Newsome is an upgrade. Top needs: WR, CB, LB
29. Green Bay (13-3) — Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss, Jr.
The Packers don’t have a single wide receiver under contract beyond the 2021 season. Top needs: WR, CB, LB
30. Buffalo (13-3) — Joe Tryon, Edge, Washington, Jr.
Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison are both getting up there in age and will be free agents following this season. Top needs: Edge, DT, CB
31. Baltimore from Kansas City (14-2) — Jayson Oweh, Edge, Penn St., So.
Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Judon are gone. Oweh is raw, but explosive and talented enough to be a designated pass rusher on day one. Top needs: Edge, C, LB
32. Tampa Bay (11-5) — Landon Dickerson, OL, Alabama, Sr.
The champs are in a position to build depth with all 22 starters returning next season. Both starting center Ryan Jensen and starting right guard Alex Cappa are free agents after the 2021 season. Dickerson could essentially red-shirt. Top needs: DT, Edge, OL
56. Seattle — Milton Williams, DL, Louisiana Tech, Jr.
The Seahawks continue to reinforce their pass rush (especially important after an arrest warrant was recently issued for Aldon Smith in Louisiana). Top needs: WR, CB, DT
57. L.A. Rams — Jabril Cox, LB, LSU, Sr.
Cox’s range, coverage skills and athleticism would be a major upgrade to one of the worst linebacker units in the NFL. Top needs: OL, LB, DL
58. Kansas City from Baltimore — Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson, Sr.
The Chiefs did a great job of upgrading their mediocre offensive line this offseason so they land Sammy Watkins’ replacement here. Top needs: WR, Edge, LB
67. Houston — Dyami Brown, WR, North Carolina, Jr.
Brown is a vertical option who could replace Will Fuller. Top needs: Edge, OL, WR