2021 NFL Mock Draft: Jets face tough decision at No. 1

The New York Jets are on a collision course for the first overall pick. I know it. Joe Douglas knows it. The whole NFL knows it. However, the Jets are in a very unique position. They are the least talented team in the league, but the organization believes it has a franchise quarterback.

Sam Darnold has had his ups and downs as a pro, but he also has had the worst set of receivers any quarterback could have asked for in his three seasons. In his last start, his go-to guy was Lawrence Cager, a rookie undrafted free agent. His supporting cast includes a 37-year-old Frank Gore, Patriots castoffs Braxton Berrios and Chris Hogan and an injured Jamison Crowder. Plus whatever you make of Chris Herndon at this stage.

Evaluating Darnold is hard as a result. He has committed a ton of turnovers, but he has never really been put in a position to succeed. His offensive line play finally improved this year, but injuries have already derailed his protection plan. He has also played for two coaches (likely to be three if he is on the roster next year) and two general managers in three seasons. His current head coach is arguably the worst in the NFL.

I believe Sam Darnold has what it takes to be a starter in this league. He might just need an improved supporting cast and some better coaching. In this mock draft, the Jets decide to go with Lawrence and send Darnold to Indianapolis for a 2021 conditional third-round pick (with a chance to become a second) and a 2022 sixth-round pick.

Darnold would take over in 2021 as the starter with Philip Rivers only on a one-year deal. Darnold gives them an instant starter with at two years left on his deal at a reasonable price. Indy still has Jacob Eason to develop in the meantime and Jacoby Brissett to step in if Darnold struggles or goes down with an injury.

Frank Reich would be the perfect coach to mentor Darnold and help him take the next step. He has plenty of talent, so a better system and better supporting cast will do him wonders.

Let’s get to the actual mock draft now. 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. New York Jets (5000-1) – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
This team is going to have new leadership in 2021. Adam Gase will be out. Hopefully, New York can lure a top coaching candidate to work with Trevor Lawrence. He is far and away the best quarterback in this class. He is the best prospect I have seen since Andrew Luck came out of Stanford. The Jets seem to finally have some of the right pieces in place. Mekhi Becton looks awesome at left tackle. While the rest of the roster still needs an upgrade, having your franchise tackle and quarterback is a good place to start.

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2. Jacksonville Jaguars (2000-1) – Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
At the beginning of the year, if you had told me the Jaguars were picking second overall, I would have assured you they were taking a quarterback. However, Gardner Minshew has looked like the real deal. No, it hasn’t been perfect, but I believe it is enough for the team to consider building around him. While Penei Sewell is certainly an option here, only Carolina has fewer sacks this season than Jacksonville. Gregory Rousseau dominated the ACC in his one year as a starter. He opted out before 2020, but he will have every chance to solidify his status as a top-five pick during the pre-draft process.

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3. New York Giants (1000-1) – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
2020 has been especially rough for the Giants. Saquon Barkley tore his ACL and the team has struggled to put up points this season. New York’s defense has actually been better than many expected though. I still don’t think that means the front office should pass on Micah Parsons. He is one of the best run defenders in college football and brings pass rushing ability as well. He could give the Giants a rock to build around on the defensive side of the ball.

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4. Cincinnati Bengals (1000-1) – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
Joe Burrow looks like the answer to Cincinnati’s quarterback problems. If they don’t start blocking for him though, he might not be the answer for long. Burrow has been sacked an absurd 22 times in five games, by far the most in the NFL. Enter Penei Sewell. He would have likely been the first tackle taken in the 2020 NFL draft. You can pretty much count on him being the first one taken in the 2021 draft. He will step in at left tackle allowing Jonah Williams to move inside to guard or flip to right tackle.

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5. Washington Football Team (500-1) – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Dwayne Haskins’ time is up in Washington. He got benched in Week 5 and I don’t think we will ever start again, barring injuries forcing him back into action. The front office could look to trade him this offseason. Regardless, the team will be looking for a new franchise quarterback. They can just replace Haskins with his successor at Ohio State. Justin Fields had an excellent season in 2019, leading the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff. He has plenty of arm talent and great escapability. He could sit for a year behind Alex Smith or Kyle Allen before taking over as the starter.

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6. Atlanta Falcons (500-1) – Patrick Surtain, CB, Alabama
Could Atlanta move on from Matt Ryan, or at least work on finding his successor? It’s not out of the question with both Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff fired on Sunday. However, he is effectively under contract through 2022. Outside of the dud against the Panthers, Ryan has not been the problem either. Atlanta’s defense has been arguably the worst in the league. Between injuries and a lack of talent, the secondary is atrocious. The Falcons reached on A.J. Terrell last year. Patrick Surtain would not be a reach. He has the chops to be a true lockdown corner and is reliable as a tackler. He has NFL pedigree and is battle tested coming out of the SEC.

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7. Detroit Lions (250-1) – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
I spent most of last offseason mocking quarterbacks to the Detroit Lions. Matt Stafford stepped up though before missing the final three quarters of the season with an injury. So far this season, he has not looked sharp. His completion percentage is 30th among 33 qualified quarterbacks through five weeks. Even if the Lions don’t move on from him before the start of the 2021 season, finding his successor could be something a new coaching staff and front office places a high priority on. Trey Lance might not have faced the same level of competition as Lawrence and Fields, but he has future franchise quarterback written all over him.

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8. Denver Broncos (250-1) – Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Denver’s secondary is incredibly young right now. However, the team needs to continue restocking after Chris Harris, Tremaine Brock and Bradley Roby all left over the past two seasons. Caleb Farley is the type of physical corner that could reshape the defense. Playing him across from A.J. Bouye when he returns from injury would give the Broncos a reliable starting duo on the outside with some Bryce Callahan holding down the slot.

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9. Miami Dolphins via Houston Texans (125-1) – Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
At some point, the team is going to be turned over to Tua Tagovailoa. He has two solid receivers in DeVante Parker and Preston Williams, but Miami should find him another pass catcher to work with. Ja’Marr Chase broke all kinds of records at LSU in 2019 while catching passes from Joe Burrow. He is a great route runner with the ability to take the top off a defense. He plays a lot bigger than his size as well. This Dolphins offense could be scary to face starting in 2021.

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10. Los Angeles Chargers (125-1) – Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
L.A. tabbed Justin Herbert as it’s quarterback of the future. Now it needs to invest in protecting him. Samuel Cosmi is not the most polished prospect, but he has the size and length to project well as a starting tackle in the NFL. He has experience at both tackle spots and moves well for a player who is listed at 6’7″, 309 lbs. No matter which side he plays on, he will provide a nice boost to a Chargers offensive line that has struggled at times this season.

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11. Minnesota Vikings (125-1) – Marvin Wilson, DL, Florida State
Stopping the run has become a major issue for the Vikings. With Cosmi off the board, Minnesota can opt to plug up the middle of their defense. Florida State standout Marvin Wilson would be an instant upgrade over Jaleel Johnson or Shamar Stephen. Wilson has racked up 14 tackles for loss and nine sacks in his career. He would create an incredible front four with Danielle Hunter, Yannick Ngakoue and Michael Pierce. Unless there is a quarterback that slides to this point or the team decides to get aggressive by trading up, I think going best player available makes the most sense.

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12. Miami Dolphins (100-1) – Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
The Dolphins linebacking corps at this stage is mostly just ex-Patriots. The group could use an infusion of talent. Dylan Moses has sideline-to-sideline potential and a nose for the football. He has racked up 23 tackles and three tackles for loss in Alabama’s first three games this season. He missed all of 2019 due to a torn ACL, but seems to be back to full strength. His playmaking ability and leadership make him a great fit for Brian Flores’ defense.

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13. Philadelphia Eagles (50-1) – Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
Philadelphia hoped that acquiring Darius Slay would solve their secondary problems. He has held up his end of the bargain. The rest of the unit has not. The last defensive back the Eagles drafted in the first round was Lito Sheppard back in 2002. It is past time Philly dedicated draft capital to the position. Shaun Wade showed out as a nickle cornerback last season for Ohio State. Once the Big Ten season starts, he will get a chance to show he can play on the outside as well. He has the size and length to the play the position well.

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14. Carolina Panthers (50-1) – Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State
Carolina is gaining momentum right now and seems set at a number of key positions. Teddy Bridgewater looks sharp at quarterback. The team is pretty deep at the skill positions and spent all of its draft picks on defense last season. The biggest hole the Panthers have is at left guard. Michael Schofield was a stop-gap solution after the team traded away Trai Turner. Wyatt Davis can step in and play the position at an extremely high level. He is a road grader with great pass blocking tools. He will be a big boost to this offense.

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15. Arizona Cardinals (40-1) – Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma
Arizona’s offensive line has been much better so far this season. After Kyler Murray took 45 sacks in 2019, the unit has only allowed eight so far this year. However, they could still use some help along the interior of the line. Creed Humphrey is about as polished of an interior line prospect as you will find in college football. He has started each of the past three years at Oklahoma, including 2018, when he was blocking for none other than Murray. This is a perfect fit that fills a huge need.

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16. San Francisco 49ers (35-1) – Alex Leatherwood, OL, Alabama
Injuries have decimated the 49ers so far this year. Suddenly, the team has a quarterback controversy on its hands as well. I don’t think San Francisco will be investing a first-round pick in a quarterback this year though. Instead, the front office should look to solidify the offensive line or secondary. Alex Leatherwood is the best player at either position available. His versatility would be hugely valuable. He has played every position other than center along the offensive line. Leatherwood has the length to play tackle, making him a potential long-term solution at left tackle as well.

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17. Chicago Bears (30-1) – Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Chicago is one of the toughest teams to mock in the NFL. In the middle of the order, quarterback would be a reach at this point. The team has plenty of talent on defense and an above offensive line as well. One area for concern centers around Allen Robinson. There has been tension between him and the front office regarding his contract situation already this year. Even if he is back, the Bears could use more playmaking on offense. Look no further than Jaylen Waddle. He is an explosive athlete with good size and incredible yards after the catch ability. He can also contribute on special teams. No matter who the quarterback is next year, he will benefit from playing with Waddle.

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18. Indianapolis Colts (25-1) – Jevon Holland, DB, Oregon
Julian Blackmon has been a revelation for the Colts defense this season. Malik Hooker is a pending free agent though and suffered a season-ending Achilles injury. Even if Hooker does come back, Jevon Holland is the best available option on the board for Indy. After trading for Sam Darnold (in this mock draft) to find a quarterback, Holland can step in and be a dynamic playmaker on the defense. He has played at both safety spots and nickle corner in time at Oregon. Indianapolis desperately needs that type of versatility and depth in the secondary.

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19. New England Patriots (25-1) – Carlos Basham, EDGE, Wake Forest
With the top offensive linemen off the board, New England can go after an edge rusher. Between opt outs, offseason departures and injuries, this once vaunted Patriots defense is much more middle of the road in 2020. With just six sacks through four games, they need an infusion of talent and speed off the edge. Carlos Basham can do just that. He has 17.5 career sacks, including three this season, and 33 tackles for loss. His size makes him a good fit for Bill Belichick’s defense as well, with the ability to put his hand in the ground or stand up on the outside.

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20. Dallas Cowboys (22-1) – Andre Cisco, S, Syracuse
Injuries have tanked the Cowboys this season, but most of those have been on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively, Dallas just stinks. Darian Thompson is not a starting-caliber safety. Xavier Woods has been solid, but could easily be replaced. Andre Cisco is a free safety by trade, which makes this fit a little tricky, but the Cowboys cannot afford to pass up on talent. Cisco is a ballhawk with 13 career interceptions. Considering Dallas has a league-worst -7 turnover margin, this is the type of playmaking they desperately need.

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21. Cleveland Browns (20-1) – Christian Barmore, DL, Alabama
Cleveland could arguably use linebacker help over a defensive tackle, but with none worth taking here, Christian Barmore is the pick. He is a well-rounded prospect with three-down ability. He can stuff the run or get after the quarterback. At 6’5″, 310 lbs, he could easily fit into the Browns 4-3 defensive front alongside Larry Ogunjobi. The team can save $12 million in cap space by cutting Sheldon Richardson next offseason. Too often, Myles Garrett is a one-man wrecking crew. Barmore will help shoulder the load up front.

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22. Tennessee Titans (20-1) – Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
Maybe Corey Davis has a future in Tennessee, maybe he doesn’t. A.J. Brown seems pretty well entrenched as the No. 1 option when healthy and Davis might just be good enough to play behind him. With Davis’ deal up at the end of the year, the Titans could be in the market for another playmaker. Rondale Moore is about as reliable as they come. In his freshman season, he caught 114 passes for over 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also added an additional 213 yards rushing. He got off to a great start in 2019 before injuries derailed his season. While Tennessee would love a top-tier defensive back to fall to them, Moore is an excellent consolation prize.

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23. Las Vegas Raiders (18-1) – Jaylen Twyman, DL, Pittsburgh
One year after thinking they struck gold with their revitalized pass rush, the Raiders have managed just seven sacks in five games. With two young pass rushers on the edge, Las Vegas needs a disruptive force on the interior. Jaylen Twyman would be just that. He racked up 10.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss in his 2019 campaign. At 6’2″, 290 he projects well as a three-technique tackle who would fit really well alongside Johnathan Hankins.

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24. Jacksonville Jaguars via Los Angeles Rams (15-1) – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
In the interest of seeing Gardner Minshew succeed, let’s get him a pass-catching tight end who can make plays in space. Jacksonville quietly has a pretty deep receiver room right now. At the same time, few teams can match their level of futility at tight end. James O’Shaughnessy and Tyler Eifert have combined for 23 catches for 208 yards and one touchdown through five games. Kyle Pitts has 17 catches for 274 yards and seven touchdowns in three games. He is a matchup nightmare at 6’6″, 240 lbs. Giving Minshew a reliable target on third down and in the red zone will definitely help his development.

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25. Buffalo Bills (12-1) – Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
We have a run on tight ends! After none were selected in the first round last year, it is exciting to see two go back-to-back in this mock draft. Buffalo has gotten even less production out of Dawson Knox and Tyler Kroft. Josh Allen is proving that he is truly the franchise quarterback for the Bills and the team should give him as many weapons as they can. Pat Freiermuth has drawn some comparison to Rob Gronkowski. Now, that is high praise, but Buffalo would love to have a player like that on its offense. He is a threat in the red zone with the potential to develop into a top-tier player at the position.

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26. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-1) – Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
The Steelers could be heading into one of the most crucial offseason’s the franchise has faced in a long time. Without a clear heir to Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh could certainly kick the tires on Haskins and Darnold. However, Big Ben might have a few more years in him as well. With James Conner in a contract year, the Steelers could suddenly have an opening at running back. Najee Harris is a bruising back with above average hands out of the backfield. He is also a scoring machine, with 30 touchdowns in his past 16 games. Rather than pay an injury prone back like Conner, Pittsburgh can get an upgrade at the position on a rookie contract and look to target a quarterback prospect in the later rounds.

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27. New Orleans Saints (10-1) – DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
I truly believe the Saints feel they already have their long-term solution at quarterback in house. Whether it’s Jameis Winston returning on a bigger contract or turning things over to Taysom Hill, New Orleans has two options for when Drew Brees retires. What they don’t have is a long-term complement to Michael Thomas. DeVonta Smith is exactly the type of player Sean Payton has wanted in this offense for a long time. He thought he was going to get it with Tedd Ginn Jr. Smith is a speedy, big-play threat with a polished route tree and tons of agility. He comes out of an Alabama offense that has thrown it a lot over the past two seasons. He is a bit undersized, which makes me question if he will hold up in the NFL, but he would fit in perfectly alongside Thomas in this offense.

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28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (17-2) – Jay Tufele, DL, USC
Ndamukong Suh is 33 and out of a contract at the end of the season. Tampa could hope it gets another great season out of him on another one-year deal, but it might be time to start thinking about a long-term replacement. Jay Tufele is not Suh, but he is built like him. He will need time to put it all together at the next level, but he has shown flashes at USC of devestating potential. He and Vita Vea could create a dominant tandem on the interior of the Buccaneers defensive line.

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29. Green Bay Packers (8-1) – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
While the Packers might be proving us all wrong about needing to draft a receiver, it would be wise to eventually invest in the position. Davante Adams is signed through 2021 and the rest of the Packers receivers are not exactly proven commodities. Rashod Bateman plays a bit like Michael Thomas, and that is a very good thing. He is a big-body receiver who can work underneath or stretch the field. Bateman has plenty of big-play ability, averaging 20.3 yards per reception in 2019 for Minnesota. He would give Aaron Rodgers, and eventually Jordan Love, a consistent outside threat to work with.

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30. Baltimore Ravens (5-1) – Joe Tryon, EDGE, Washington
Matt Judon, Pernell McPhee, Tyus Bowser and Derek Wolfe are all free agents after the 2020 season. While Baltimore will likely invest in keeping some of them, it is incredibly unlikely all four players return for 2021. That opens up a need for an edge rusher in the draft. Joe Tryon is still a bit raw, but he has all the physical tools to develop into a great pass rusher. His play strength is evident on film. He has quick feet and uses his hands well. Learning in Don Martindale’s defense would be excellent for his development. He might not start right away, but the Ravens could definitely deploy him as a situational rusher.

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31. New York Jets via Seattle Seahawks (5-1) – Tyson Campbell, CB, Georgia
Outside of quarterback, left tackle, strong safety and slot receiver, the Jets likely need an upgrade at the position. The secondary is a mess right now. New York’s unit is mostly just cast offs from other teams looking to fill in. The Jets are one of the most penalized teams in the NFL, largely due to poor secondary play. Tyson Campbell might help fast-track a rebuild of the unit. He has outstanding speed and quickness, not to mention excellent size for the position. Campbell still has a bit of fine-tuning to do when it comes to his technique and discipline, but he is a big reason why Georgia defense has been so dominant this year.

Chiefs Logo32. Kansas City Chiefs (7-2) – 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 Patrick Mahomes and his mega deal 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. He is a massive human being with plenty of potential if he can stay on the field.

NFL Draft Podcast – College Football opt outs and player demands

Chris is finally back recording the show! He breaks down the decisions of Caleb Farley, Rashod Bateman, Rondale Moore, Gregory Rousseau and Micah Parsons to opt out of the 2020 season. He also discusses the impact of the Pac-12’s player demands and how the Big Ten followed suit. Plus, catch up on the latest regarding the Power 5 conference schedules for the upcoming season. Listen to the latest episode now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
https://anchor.fm/theaftermath