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The 2021 NFL draft is finally here, folks. It’s set to get underway on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.
That means we are just over a day away from putting the debates on this draft cycle to rest permanently. After a long pre-draft process, we’ll finally know things like whom the 49ers take at No. 3 and whether the Bengals choose Ja’Marr Chase or Penei Sewell.
That also means it’s time to lock in the final mock draft though. Knowing that this is the last attempt adds a little pressure for me, but that’s what makes this entire process so much fun. So let’s get started, shall we?
Note: This is the first of a two-part mock draft. Picks 17-32 can be found here.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Previous Pick: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
It’s not about what Jacksonville does with the first pick. That has long been decided, so it isn’t worth discussing. On Tuesday, Trent Dilfer joined OutKick founder Clay Travis on his radio show, and the two touched on how Lawrence stacks up against other generational talents.
You should definitely check that out.
What the Jags do at No. 25 is way more intriguing, in my opinion. There’s actually a few things that could happen there, but more on that later.
2. New York Jets – Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
Previous Pick: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
Sam Darnold is out, and Zach Wilson is in — or at least that’s the way it’s looking right now. Wilson is the ultimate boom-or-bust product in this draft, but some of his tools are off the charts. If he hits, he’s going to be a rock star in New York.
Even if he does hit though, the team still needs to improve the talent around him. Adding Corey Davis and Keelan Cole to go with Denzel Mims, Jamison Crowder and Chris Herndon certainly helps, but the offensive line needs to be a priority for the Jets on Days 2 and 3.
3. San Francisco 49ers – Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
Previous Pick: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Fine, you all finally got me. After holding out for what feels like forever, I’m giving in and slotting Jones into the No. 3 spot over Trey Lance. I’m still not 100 percent convinced it’ll be the Alabama quarterback, but I also can’t ignore all the smoke.
If he does get taken here, Jones will still be set up for plenty of success in San Francisco. He’s going to be surrounded by one of the top offensive lines in the NFL, and he’ll have plenty of playmakers who can create after the catch. Plus he’ll have an elite offensive mind running the offense.
4. Atlanta Falcons – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
Previous Pick: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
Pitts seems to think quarterbacks are going in the first four picks. It’s possible, especially with Atlanta having its choice of Lance or Justin Fields, but I feel pretty good about Pitts being the selection here.
He’s the best player in this draft — yes, including Lawrence — and he’ll continue the Falcons’ tradition of fielding at least two top-notch pass-catchers, even if the team moves on from Julio Jones. At 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, Pitts is a matchup nightmare for the rest of the NFC South.
5. Cincinnati Bengals – Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
Previous Pick: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
For months, this spot has been Penei Sewell or bust for me. I felt like the biggest priority was finding Joe Burrow more protection after his ACL injury — and a lot of other people agreed. Now that I’ve crossed over to the dark side, I actually think this could be the better route.
The Bengals are no longer looking for a tackle immediately since they signed free agent Riley Reiff.
Even if they draft Sewell, he’ll likely be a starting guard in Year 1. In other words, Cincinnati can choose to go with an elite guard prospect at the top of Round 2 and get the same production in 2021. Look for a guy such as Alex Leatherwood, Wyatt Davis or Landon Dickerson there.
6. Miami Dolphins – Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Previous Pick: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
From what I have been hearing, the Dolphins want Pitts. They are hoping he can get past Atlanta, but that isn’t the case in this mock. I’ve also heard that some in Miami’s front office don’t like that Chase opted out of the 2020 season, meaning he hasn’t played in a while.
On the flip side, Waddle battled his way back to the field after a broken leg to help Alabama win a national title. For Brian Flores and company, that could mean something. It could either be Waddle or DeVonta Smith here, but I’m sticking with the guy I’ve had all along.
7. Detroit Lions – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Previous Pick: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
It’s possible that the Lions could trade out of this pick. It’s also possible that they could prefer Justin Fields, but Jared Goff, who’s already in the fold, is the perfect one-year bridge to get Lance acclimated to the NFL.
This won’t do much for Detroit fans in Year 1, but it could be well worth it come 2022. Lance is extremely young and still growing as a prospect. Once he gets there, he could end up being the best quarterback in this class — including Lawrence.
*TRADE: Patriots make a deal with Panthers to move up from No. 15 to No. 8.
8. New England Patriots – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State**
Previous Pick: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
I may not have Jones taking a fall in this mock, but that doesn’t mean the Patriots won’t make a move for Fields. In fact, he’s the perfect option to be groomed behind Cam Newton for a season.
Bill Belichick realizes that Fields — or preferably, Lance — could be a target for the Broncos at No. 9, so they make a move with the Carolina Panthers to secure their guy. They’ve done enough in free agency to be able to withstand the hit with draft capital.
9. Denver Broncos – Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
Previous Pick: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
Denver is in a tough spot here. I believe they want Lance and that they might be willing to settle for Fields, but both of those players are off the board. Since they already signed cornerbacks in free agency, I’m not sure a guy such as Patrick Surtain II is a good idea.
In an ideal world, the Broncos would trade back here, but I wasn’t able to find a trade partner for them. So they’re stuck. This pick should be Micah Parsons, but character concerns push him down the board. Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell are both unrestricted free agents next year, so a long-term option at off-ball linebacker is needed.
I can acknowledge that this is a reach, but reaches happen.
10. Dallas Cowboys – Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
Previous Pick: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
This is one of the easiest picks to mock. In my opinion, it’s going to be one of two guys: Surtain or South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn. I’ve gone back and forth between the two, but I still believe that Surtain is the best healthy cornerback in this draft class.
Reuniting him with former Alabama teammate Trevon Diggs as perimeter corners will be fun to watch. Dallas certainly needs upgrades now that the Giants have added Kenny Golladay and Washington has added Curtis Samuel.
*TRADE: Cardinals make a deal with Giants to move up from No. 16 to No. 11.
11. Arizona Cardinals – Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina**
Previous Pick: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
There have been rumors that the Cardinals want to make a move up for an elite wide receiver. With Larry Fitzgerald’s future still uncertain, a new WR makes at least some sense, but I think a replacement for Patrick Peterson is even more important. Malcolm Butler is only a temporary solution.
Arizona knows the Eagles want a top cornerback such as Horn, so they make a move ahead of them to prevent that from happening. The Giants don’t mind helping out, considering it could hurt a division foe.
12. Philadelphia Eagles – DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Previous Pick: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Yes, Philadelphia missed out on a cornerback to pair with Darius Slay, but DeVonta Smith is a heck of a consolation prize. I still don’t think this offense has enough playmakers, so onboarding Smith could actually work out better for the Eagles.
Starting quarterback Jalen Hurts is already plenty familiar with Smith from their time together in Tuscaloosa. That could help make the transition easier, but I don’t think the Heisman Trophy winner is going to have much difficulty in that regard anyways.
The Eagles haven’t had a 1,000-yard wide receiver since 2014, and they’re the only team to go without one during that time. That should change after this pick.
13. Los Angeles Chargers – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
Previous Pick: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
Once again, a top talent such as Sewell takes a slight fall. The Chargers certainly don’t mind, as Sewell fills a significant need: protecting Justin Herbert’s blindside. Sewell also has familiarity with the star quarterback since the two played together at Oregon.
With Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler and now Sewell joining Bryan Bulaga on the offensive line, this unit is much improved. That will go a long way in making sure Herbert continues to progress.
14. Minnesota Vikings – Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC
Previous Pick: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC
The Vikings have options at offensive tackle since the Panthers chose to trade down with the Patriots. Rashawn Slater will be considered here, but I love Vera-Tucker’s fit in Minnesota. His versatility allows him to play a variety of positions along the offensive line.
With Reiff off to Cincinnati, it’s likely that the USC product will get a shot at left tackle to start off. If that doesn’t work out, he can always kick inside to guard. If they don’t select someone for the offensive line, look for the Vikings to add an edge player such as Kwity Paye.
15. Carolina Panthers – Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern**
Previous Pick: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
This is a huge win for Carolina. In other mock drafts, I’ve had the Panthers taking Slater with the No. 8 pick. Now they get to move down seven spots — while accumulating more draft capital from the Patriots — and still get the guy I had them taking at their original pick.
The front office made a bold move for Sam Darnold earlier this offseason, and now it’s time to make sure he gets more protection than he had in New York. Signing Pat Elflein and Cameron Erving helps the interior, but a left tackle is still needed. Greg Little isn’t it.
16. New York Giants – Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami
Previous Pick: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
Several players have a questionable bill of health, and I think most of those players take a fall come draft day. Two of them are Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley and Georgia edge rusher Azeez Ojulari. It’s unfortunate, but teams haven’t been able to get a full medical assessment of these guys because of COVID protocols.
I made an exception for Phillips, but don’t get me wrong. He could absolutely fall come Thursday as well, but he’s clearly the best edge prospect in this draft. Plus he fits the criteria that Dave Gettleman looks for at the position.
Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.