The NFL draft will finally arrive Thursday night, ending months of player evaluations and near-endless speculation about whom teams will choose. But before then, I have one last projection of all 32 first-round picks.
Here’s my final mock draft for 2021:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
No drama here. Everyone has known since last year that Lawrence would be the first pick. He is the highest-rated quarterback to enter the league since Andrew Luck.
2. New York Jets: QB Zach Wilson, BYU
General Manager Joe Douglas appears to have decided on this pick toward the end of March. Soon after, the Jets shipped quarterback Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers.
3. San Francisco 49ers: QB Mac Jones, Alabama
It appears Coach Kyle Shanahan wants Jones, but there have been reports that some in the organization prefer Trey Lance. But Jones makes sense because he’s smart, he’s accurate and he gets rid of the ball quickly — qualities Shanahan covets in his quarterbacks.
4. Atlanta Falcons: T Penei Sewell, Oregon
There has been some Kyle Pitts buzz lately, but it’s possible the Falcons wanted others to think they would take him or a quarterback to drive up the cost of a trade. They’re committed financially to Matt Ryan for the next two years, so picking Sewell would help fix a line that has allowed him to be sacked 131 times in the past three years.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: TE Kyle Pitts, Florida
The Bengals could reunite quarterback Joe Burrow with former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase, but Pitts is such an unusual weapon at tight end that he would be difficult to pass up. Pitts is probably the best non-quarterback in the draft.
6. Miami Dolphins: WR Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
The Dolphins would be very happy taking Chase or Pitts. They are looking to improve the offense around second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
7. Detroit Lions: WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama
The Lions could trade down to a team looking to draft a quarterback, but if there is no trade, a wide receiver seems probable. I think they will decide to take Smith over his teammate Jaylen Waddle.
8. Carolina Panthers: T Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
The Panthers could trade back or they might consider taking Waddle. But with left tackle Russell Okung unsigned, I think the Panthers will lean toward Slater. He is a great technician as a blocker.
9. Denver Broncos: QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
The Broncos’ trade for Teddy Bridgewater on Wednesday doesn’t necessarily take them out of the running for a quarterback, particularly if Fields drops this far. They have been wanting to get some competition for incumbent starter Drew Lock, and their investment in Bridgewater isn’t significant, given that his contract was restructured to get the deal done and it cost them only a sixth-round pick. But perhaps the more likely scenario now is that a team such as New England, Washington or Chicago trades up to this spot to draft Fields or Lance. Either way, we’ll leave Fields here for now.
10. Dallas Cowboys: CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn wants angular cornerbacks who are great in press coverage. That’s exactly what Surtain provides, and he might be the best defensive player in the draft.
11. New York Giants: LB Micah Parsons, Penn State
The Giants could lean toward taking an offensive tackle or an edge rusher, but Parsons is too much of a steal to pass up here.
12. Philadelphia Eagles: WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
They could draft a cornerback here, possibly South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn, but Waddle dropping to them at this spot would be a gift. He is a player they might have drafted with the sixth pick, before their trade with Miami that netted them a 2022 first-round pick.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: CB Jaycee Horn, South Carolina
The Chargers need cornerback help, and here they get the second-best cornerback in the draft. If Horn is gone, they could take a tackle, most likely Christian Darrisaw.
14. Minnesota Vikings: T Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
The Vikings get lucky and land a tackle who can come in and replace Riley Reiff on the left side. If Darrisaw isn’t available, Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye is an option.
15. New England Patriots: QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
As mentioned earlier, I don’t project trades in my mock drafts. You would think that New England, Washington or Chicago will make a move up the board to draft the last of the five quarterback prospects earlier than this, but even without a trade, I don’t see Lance or any of the quarterbacks getting past the 15th pick.
16. Arizona Cardinals: DE Kwity Paye, Michigan
The Cardinals will be on the lookout for an offensive lineman, possibly Alijah Vera-Tucker of Southern California, but with the best edge rusher in the draft falling to them in this scenario, they take Paye.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: T Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State
The Raiders need help on defense, but they also need a plug-and-play starter at right tackle to replace Trent Brown. Jenkins fits the bill.
18. Miami Dolphins: RB Najee Harris, Alabama
The Dolphins have the option of trading down a few spots and taking Harris, but they have to be careful; the Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers could be looking for a running back a few picks later.
19. Washington Football Team: LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
Washington is loaded with first-round defensive linemen. The 216-pound Owusu-Koramoah, who is the type of versatile player Ron Rivera values, could be a star playing behind them.
20. Chicago Bears: CB Greg Newsome II, Northwestern
The Bears will be tempted by wide receivers, but they really need a starting cornerback to replace Kyle Fuller. Newsome would be a perfect fit.
21. Indianapolis Colts: DE/OLB Azeez Ojulari, Georgia
They need a replacement at left tackle for Anthony Castonzo, but they might be able to find that in the second round. Ojulari would fill a need at edge rusher.
22. Tennessee Titans: DT Christian Barmore, Alabama
The Titans have a lot of needs, including at wide receiver, cornerback and edge rusher. But taking Barmore would fortify their defensive line and provide another inside pass-rush threat alongside Jeffery Simmons.
23. New York Jets: OL Alijah Vera-Tucker, Southern California
Vera-Tucker is one of the best blockers in the draft, and the Jets could start him as a rookie at tackle or guard.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: RB Travis Etienne, Clemson
The Steelers were one of the worst teams running the football last year and lost starter James Conner to Arizona. They also need to add offensive line help, but they could address that need in the later rounds.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars: S Trevon Moehrig, TCU
The Jaguars need help on defense. Their preference might be taking Barmore to help the line, if he is available here, but Moehrig would be a great addition to the secondary.
26. Cleveland Browns: LB Zaven Collins, Tulsa
Cleveland filled its need at edge rusher by signing Jadeveon Clowney, so here the Browns take the best available linebacker.
27. Baltimore Ravens: DE/OLB Jaelan Phillips, Miami
Phillips could drop into the second round because of his injury history, but in terms of talent he is one of the best edge rushers in the draft. Baltimore needs replacements for starters Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue.
28. New Orleans Saints: CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
Farley was considered the second-best cornerback in the draft before recent back surgery caused his stock to drop. The Saints need help at cornerback, and if healthy, Farley is a steal here.
29. Green Bay Packers: LB Jamin Davis, Kentucky
Davis is a talented linebacker with sideline-to-sideline speed, but just imagine the look on Aaron Rodgers’s face if the Packers pass on wide receivers Rashod Bateman and Kadarius Toney.
30. Buffalo Bills: DE Joe Tryon, Washington
Tryon would be a good fit for the Bills as a pass-rushing defensive end. The Bills could look to move out of the first round and land him in the early second.
31. Baltimore Ravens: T Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
After trading Orlando Brown to the Kansas City Chiefs in a deal that netted this pick, the Ravens need a new starting right tackle. Leatherwood, at 6-foot-6 and 312 pounds, is a good option.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DE Gregory Rousseau, Miami
Rousseau has good pass-rushing ability coming off the edge but could also be used as an interior rusher on passing downs.
What to read about the 2021 NFL draft
Best remaining prospects | Best picks and biggest question marks | John Clayton’s final mock draft
• Winners and losers from the first round
• The NFL draft’s first round reminds that at quarterback, good is no longer good enough
• How a small-school lineman turned himself from ‘the guy with the gut’ into an NFL prospect
• Kyle Pitts, ‘unicorn’ of the draft, is the best tight end to enter the NFL in years
• Justin Fields’s path from college star to ‘punching bag’ embodies NFL’s draft season
• Trey Lance is one of the draft’s bigger mysteries, but he has been well prepared for the NFL
• Jamin Davis began last season off the NFL’s radar. Now he’s a first-round pick.
• Mac McCain, grandson of a civil rights icon, wants to take his family legacy to the NFL
What’s different: Oddities and challenges remain | For a recovering draftnik, less is more