Way-Too-Early 2021 NFL Mock Draft: Five QBs go in Round 1

Welcome to the class of 2021! Yes it is definitely really early for me to be starting work on this, but this is usually just a fun way to introduce some of the best prospects heading into the upcoming college football season. The current draft order is based on Super Bowl odds from Caesar’s Sportsbook. If you don’t like where your team is picking, you can take it up with them.

This looks like it has the makings to be a special class with some great quarterbacks and another group of talented wide receivers. Let’s get started!

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1. Jacksonville Jaguars (250-1) – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
If Jacksonville is picking here next year, it’s probably because the Gardner Minshew sequel was not as good as the original. Trevor Lawrence is the clear top prospect heading into the 2021 season. He struggled in the national championship game, but that should not overshadow two years of relative dominance while leading a team to back-to-back title games, winning one of them. He could be a franchise-altering player for the Jaguars.

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2. Washington (150-1) – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Much like Jacksonville, if Washington ends up picking in the top two, I don’t see Dwayne Haskins’ job being safe. He wasn’t drafted by this current regime and if you can upgrade at quarterback, you have to. Fields is a dynamic athlete with a strong arm and lots of impressive film. He will compete with Lawrence for the top spot in this draft class. He would give Ron Rivera a franchise quarterback to go with the star pass rusher he just drafted. The Columbus to D.C. pipeline is taking shape.

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3. Carolina Panthers (125-1) – Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
I have to admit I am surprised to see the Panthers picking in the top three, but Vegas knows best. This would give Carolina a chance to continue building a stout defense by adding the best pass rusher in this draft. Rousseau recorded the second most sacks in the country in 2019, trailing only Chase Young. That was his first year of college ball as well after redshirting his first season. Another dominant season would lock him into the top five.

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4. Miami Dolphins (100-1) – J’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
The Dolphins have their franchise quarterback. Now it is time to get an elite weapon for him to work with in the passing game. DeVante Parker seems to be making strides, but J’Marr Chase was the best college receiver in America as a sophomore. It will be interesting to see how Chase does with a quarterback other than Joe Burrow. His talent alone should stand out though. Even when his number inevitably dip, he will be worthy of a top-five selection.

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5. Cincinnati Bengals (100-1) – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
There was some buzz around the Bengals looking to find an offensive tackle in the 2020 draft. With Jonah Williams set to make his debut, it probably won’t be a huge need, but if you can protect your young quarterback, that seems like a worthwhile investment. Sewell would have been the top tackle selected this year if he had been eligible. He spent the past two seasons protecting Justin Herbert’s blindside very effectively. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of him going even earlier than this next April.

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6. New York Jets (100-1) – Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Jets fans are excited about landing Denzel Mims in the second round of the 2020 draft. If he has a stellar rookie season, perhaps this won’t be a big need for the team, but the receivers room is still lacking talent in New York. Jaylen Waddle is an electric burner at Alabama and would be an impact player for Sam Darnold. He is dangerous in the open field and projects better to the NFL than his teammate DeVonta Smith given his size. Still, you should expect it to be another year where two Alabama receivers go in the first round.

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7. Detroit Lions (60-1) – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Give Bob Quinn some credit. He put together a solid draft class for the Lions. Detroit added some potential difference makers on defense through both the draft and free agency, but still needs a long-term solution at linebacker. Parsons and Alabama’s Dylan Moses will be vying for the top spot in these positional rankings, but I will give the edge to the Penn State star. He is a sure tackler that comes without Moses’ injury history. That Lions defense would have two really great building blocks in Parsons and Jeff Okudah.

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8. Arizona Cardinals (60-1) – Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson
No question about it, this is not the biggest need for the Cardinals. They traded for former Clemson star DeAndre Hopkins and have some developing options in Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella. Larry Fitzgerald is going to retire eventually (right?) and at that point, I think Kliff Kingsberry will be looking to find another top flight receiver to pair with Hopkins. Ross made waves as a freshman for making some spectacular catches in Clemson’s rout of Alabama in the National Championship game. He plays in one of the most loaded receiving groups in the country as well. Based on his talent, this would be great value for Arizona.

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9. Atlanta Falcons (60-1) – Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
It was maybe the worst-kept secret around this draft that the Falcons wanted help at corner. They might have reached a bit on A.J. Terrell in the first round. Even if he turns out to be a solid starter, the team could definitely use more help at the position. Patrick Surtain II’s name is familiar because his father was a three-time Pro Bowler with the Dolphins during the early 2000s. The younger Surtain is the latest Alabama corner to catch scouts’ attention. He has the prototypical size and speed to excel in the NFL and faces top competition regularly for the Tide.

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10. Miami Dolphins via Houston Texans (55-1) – Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
Miami loaded up on offensive line help and grabbed a high-upside corner after selecting Tua Tagovailoa in the 2020 draft. Now it is time to add more talent to the front seven. As I mentioned earlier, Moses has some injury questions he will have to answer after missing the entire 2019 season with at torn ACL. However, if you go back to his sophomore year, you will see a leader on the Alabama defense capable of making plays at the line and holding his own in coverage. The Dolphins loaded up on ex-Patriots linebackers in free agency, but they could use a young prospect to rebuild that position group around.

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11. New York Giants (50-1) – Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
The Giants will be disappointed to see both Parsons and Moses off the board already. They could use some help at linebacker. However, this is shaping up to be another great receiving class and New York should take advantage. While Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton are both productive receivers, this group seems to lack a go-to playmaker. Moore tore up the Big Ten as a freshman in 2018. He seemed set to do it again in 2019 before injuries derailed his season. He is definitely a bit undersized at just 5’9″, but he is a game-changing player. That is something the Giants need to find for Daniel Jones to reach his full potential.

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12. Chicago Bears (50-1) – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Given his struggles in his third season, the Bears seem reluctant to commit to Mitch Trubisky. They traded for Nick Foles to provide some immediate competition, but it feels like the Bears are ready to find a new prospect to develop. Lance comes from the same school that produced Carson Wentz and he dominated the FCS last year. He became the first freshman to win the Walter Payton Award and he also won the Jerry Rice Award. He throws a really nice deep ball and has good zip on his throws. He is also incredibly mobile. Lance definitely needs to work on his pocket presence and footwork, but from an arm talent perspective, it’s all there.

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13. Denver Broncos (50-1) – Walker Little, OT, Stanford
Garrett Bolles has really struggled in Denver. He picks up way too many penalties for the Broncos to feel comfortable paying him when his contract is up. After neglecting the position all together in the 2020 draft, this should be a priority. Little had a strong 2018 season but missed almost the entire 2019 season with a knee injury. With him returning to school for his senior year, he will get the chance to remind everyone why there was buzz about him being a first round pick before he got hurt. He moves well and plays with enough power to anchor down the left side of the line. He would be an upgrade for John Elway and company.

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14. Los Angeles Chargers (45-1) – Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
L.A. tabbed Justin Herbert as it’s quarterback of the future. Now it needs to invest in protecting him. They traded away Russell Okung and did not grab a tackle in the 2020 draft, so this feels like the biggest need remaining for the team. Alex Leatherwood was Alabama’s starting left tackle in 2019, but wasn’t protecting Tua Tagovailoa’s blindside because he was a lefty. He played at guard prior to last season, so another year at tackle will be really good for him. By the end of next year’s draft, he could be a plug-and-play option for the Chargers.

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15. Cleveland Browns (35-1) – Xavier Thomas, DL, Clemson
Cleveland put together a strong draft class ready to contribute right away while also building some depth for the future. Without a ton of obvious needs, the Browns can opt for the best player available, which at this point would be Xavier Thomas. Thomas is the latest Clemson defensive lineman capable of being a difference maker at the next level. He is a bit of a tweener, lacking elite speed but also not being big enough to kick inside at 6’2″, 265 pounds. He is really solid against the run though and has shown flashes of being able to generate pressure as a pass rusher. Thomas likely projects best as a 4-3 defensive end and could take over for the aging Olivier Vernon.

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16. Las Vegas Raiders (30-1) – Israel Mukuamu, CB, South Carolina
I really liked what the Raiders did in the later rounds of the draft. Unfortunately, I think they reached big time at a position of need with Damon Arnette. In the end, it does not feel like Las Vegas solved it’s lockdown corner problem. Israel Mukuamu reminds me a bit of Noah Iginoghene given his size and speed. Put on his tape against Georgia and you will see the potential for him to become a ballhawking corner capable of shutting down one half of the field. He is massive at 6’4″ and possesses good speed given that size. If he puts together a strong season, he could be the first corner off the board given his intangibles.

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17. Jacksonville Jaguars via Los Angeles Rams (30-1) – Marvin Wilson, DL, Florida State
The direction of the Jaguars as a franchise would take a major U-turn with the addition of Trevor Lawrence. They have a few intriguing pieces to work with, but why stop adding to this defense? Wilson is a local kid who generated some first round buzz before deciding to return to school. He had 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks during his junior campaign. He also only appeared in nine games after a hand injury cut his season short. If he can stay healthy through all 12 games this year, he should put up even better numbers and be in a position to be vying for the top interior lineman off the board.

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18. Tennessee Titans (30-1) – Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
Full disclosure, I spent a good deal of 2019 mocking running backs to the Titans as well. I know this seems ludicrous given the presence of Derrick Henry, but remember that he is playing on the franchise tag for 2020. Without a deal in place for him to stay in Tennessee, it would not shock me to see the team opt for a young option to anchor their backfield. Replacing one former Alabama back with another seems like a good idea. Harris has not had heavy usage for the Tide given the depth of options they have at the position, but he is easily the most effective and versatile. He caught 27 passes and seven touchdowns in 2019. He has the potential to be a three-down back that would fit well into the Titans’ run-first scheme.

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19. Minnesota Vikings (28-1) – Jay Tufele, DL, USC
Minnesota had one of the best drafts of any team in the league, finding great value and getting some help at much needed positions. That does not leave a ton of weak spots on this roster that I can identify at the moment, so let’s say the Vikings look to upgrade their defensive line. Jay Tufele is built in a similar mold to Derrick Brown. He is big at 305 pounds, but moves well and is capable of generating some pressure. He has 10 tackles for loss through his first two seasons with USC and could be in line for a big year.

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20. Pittsburgh Steelers (28-1) – Jamie Newman, QB, Wake Forest
It is time for the Steelers to start creating a succession plan to Ben Roethlisberger. Newman played really well in his first full season as a starter at Wake Forest. He has desirable size and arm strength to play the position. He will get a chance to really elevate his status playing in the SEC as a transfer. Having Newman here is mostly assuming that he will take the next step in his development while playing at a big name school to raise his profile. I think his arm talent is enough for Pittsburgh to be interested.

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21. New England Patriots (25-1) – Chase Garbers, QB, California
If it turns out the Patriots do in fact need to draft a quarterback in the first round next season, I have a feeling they will be drafting much earlier than this. I might be a bit higher than most on Garbers, but from what I have seen, I think he can be an NFL quarterback. He uses his legs well both to extend plays and pick up extra yardage when the play breaks down. He doesn’t have the strongest arm in the world, but he throws a decent deep ball and has really good touch on sideline throws. Cal was ranked and undefeated before Garbers went down with an injury last year. In fact, the Golden Bears were actually undefeated in games Garbers started and finished last season. Given his play style, injuries could be a major issue for him. If he can stay healthy and put together another good season, I think he will earn this first round hype.

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22. Indianapolis Colts (25-1) – Quincy Roche, EDGE, Miami
You might not be too familiar with Quincy Roche, especially when you see Miami next to his name. He is a transfer from Temple, where he dominated the AAC. He finished fifth in the nation last year in sacks. Coming into a Miami defense that might already boast the best returning pass rusher in the country, Roche could be in for a monster season. The Colts will eventually have to replace Justin Houston and this might be the best chance they get to do that.

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23. Buffalo Bills (25-1) – Creed Humphrey, OL, Oklahoma
Buffalo seems poised to take over in the AFC East with Tom Brady now in Tampa. To do so, they will need to continue building in the trenches. They landed A.J. Epenesa in the second round of the 2020 draft. Finding someone to bolster the interior of their offensive line is the next step. Humphrey is about as solid as they come for interior offensive linemen. He was voted second-team All-American in 2019 and did not allow a sack while starting every game for the Sooners. Given Mitch Morse’s injury history, this is a smart pick. Worst case scenario, the Bills can start Humphrey off at guard.

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24. Philadelphia Eagles (20-1) – Andre Cisco, S, Syracuse
It was an interesting draft for the Eagles, who waited a long time to address their secondary. While I really like their pick of Tanner Muse, I think they need another safety to pair with him. Cisco reminds me a bit of a bigger Antoine Winfield Jr. He is a ballhawking safety with a staggering 12 interceptions over the past two seasons. He has a nose for the football as one of Syracuse’s leading tacklers, despite only featuring in nine games last season. He would be a welcome addition to this Eagles secondary.

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25. Green Bay Packers (16-1) – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
I still don’t understand how the Packers completely ignored their need for receivers. They have a bunch of bodies, but not too many reliable targets capable of making plays. Bateman is an all-around playmaker. He is capable of making post up plays in the red zone and high-pointing the ball down the sideline. Bateman has really impressive run after the catch ability as well. He isn’t an elite route runner, but he understands how to get separation. Even if he can’t, he is more than capable of dunk on smaller corners. I think this would be the type of target Aaron Rodgers can get the most out of.

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26. Seattle Seahawks (15-1) – Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
With Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette moving on to the NFL, it will now be Shaun Wade’s job to lead the Ohio State backfield. He could have potentially come out this season and gone in the first two rounds. A return to school with a chance to be the top dog for a program that regularly churns out NFL caliber defensive backs will probably be a great move. The Seahawks do not have much proven depth at corner and might honestly be looking for a starter across from Shaquill Griffin by this time next year. Wade has the size to work in that Seattle system.

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27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-1) – Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State
It has been a really long time since we have seen the Buccaneers picking this late in the first round. While Tristan Wirfs seems set to start at right tackle this season with the potential to move to the left side later in his career, Tampa Bay could use some help on the interior of this line. For Tom Brady, and honestly for whoever comes after him, protection is essential. Davis is an athletic road grader who is more than comfortable blocking out in space as well. He would provide a huge boost for this run game and help give Brady all the time he needs to pick defenses apart.

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28. New Orleans Saints (14-1) – Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford
The Saints have been rotating through former Giants corners trying to find someone to start across from Marshon Lattimore. With only four selections in the 2020 draft, there was no chance to find a young corner to develop either. New Orleans needs an infusion of young talent at the position. Paulson Adebo is a big, physical corner that most teams in the Pac-12 don’t even bother throwing at any more. Part of that is because they are afraid of Adebo and the other part is because the rest of Stanford’s secondary was brutal in 2019. Had it not been for an injury, I think Adebo would have come out this year and likely gone in the second round. He would give the Saints a much more reliable number two corner.

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29. Dallas Cowboys (13-1) – Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami
Dallas crushed the 2020 draft, probably producing the best class on paper in the league. This team is set up well to compete into the future, but there are still some areas for improvement. Blake Jarwin is a solid tight end, but far from an elite option. Brevin Jordan is an athletic player who can make plays in space. He isn’t used too much as a blocker, but regularly chips pass rushers. When he is used as a blocker, it is usually just for him to eventually release out into the flat on a delayed route. I think he would give the Cowboys a playmaker across the middle of the field.

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30. Baltimore Ravens (8-1) – DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Baltimore is another team that pulled in a strong draft class. They landed some great pass catchers this year, but I think the team will have a tough time passing up on another speedy playmaker. DeVonta Smith would help with that. He is small, but incredible fast. It’s not his height (6’1″) that worries about his ability to translate, it’s his frame. He only weighs 175 pounds. I wonder if he would be able to withstand the punishment handed out by some of the harder hitting defensive backs in the league. If he can add about 10 pounds while not sacrificing too much speed, I think Smith will find himself going in the top 20 come next April.

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31. San Francisco 49ers (8-1) – Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
After making a Super Bowl run, the 49ers seemed primed for another deep postseason push. With some new additions to the receiving corps and Deforest Buckner’s replacement already on board, San Francisco can afford to target a game-breaking running back. Etienne has incredible speed and elusiveness. He has shown some signs of development as a receiver. If he can do that more in 2019, he will have a shot to be the first running back selected. He would pair really nicely with Raheem Mostert and after trading away Matt Breida, I think the Niners will be interesting in adding to their backfield.

Chiefs Logo32. Kansas City Chiefs (4-1) – Trey Smith, OL, Tennessee
The reigning champs seem poised to defend their title. Brett Veach added a new running back to the mix and found some much-needed help for the secondary. While the Chiefs have some depth at the tackle spots, they could use some new talent on the interior of their offensive line. They have to protect the quarterback they are going to pay after all. Trey Smith has battled through blood clots in his lungs. When he is on the field, he is an All-American caliber guard. He was actually ESPN’s top-rated recruit back in 2017. If he can stay on the field this season, he has a chance to go even earlier than this in the draft.