NFL mock draft 2021: Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields have company at QB; Steelers, Bears, Jets get playmakers

The 2021 NFL Draft already has a big twist. With the Big Ten and Pac-12 deciding to postpone their 2020 college football seasons because of COVID-19 concerns and several players from other playing conferences opting out, a lot of top prospects are already left preparing to be selected next April 29-May 1, either in Cleveland or virtually.

The good news for those top college players not playing is the fact they have much less risk of injury or illness that may hamper their draft stock. The bad news is they no longer have an extra showcase to prove to NFL scouts that their pro potential has improved through games that count. 

Keeping all that in mind, it’s time for Sporting News’ second mock draft for 2021, our first since April. Here’s how, for now, we see the picks playing out in the first round, using the reverse order of our NFL team record and playoff predictions:

NFL DRAFT BIG BOARD:
Top 50 players in the 2021 draft class

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NFL mock draft 2021

1. Washington Football Team

With Lawrence looming as the surefire top pick in 2021, the heavy pressure is on second-year first-rounder Dwayne Haskins to come through in Scott Turner’s new offense under Ron Rivera. If he plays well enough to dig Washington out of here, Haskins may be able to hold off the Lawrence option. Unfortunately, his team is likely to take major lumps in Rivera’s rebuild and be in position to land an elite all-around passing talent with great championship and leadership pedigree.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars

Fields wants some kind of season to help build his stock and push Lawrence, but if the Buckeyes play in spring, there’s no way the dynamic dual threat would suit up for a second go in Columbus. Gardner Minshew is getting a real shot to hold down franchise duties, but like Haskins, he will have limited support to help his longer-team case. Fields, another top Georgia high school product like Lawrence, can find a good home due southeast.

3. New York Jets

The ACC and the Hurricanes are playing, but Rousseau didn’t really need to play to boost his stock after posting 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss in his lone significant and final season under defensive-minded head coach Manny Diaz. The Jets will desperately need pass-rushing help no matter who’s coaching their defense in 2021 and go Rousseau instead of offensive tackle after drafting Mekhi Becton in 2020.

4. Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins gave DeVante Parker a new deal and like Preston Williams working opposite him in Chan Gailey’s spread offense, but they are thin behind them after not investing their ample draft capital at the position in 2020. Chase is coming off a big season with Joe Burrow (84 catches, 1,780 yards, 20 TDs), and without Burrow and Justin Jefferson, he should see his role diversify in working both the outside and the slot at times for Myles Brennan. Chase would be an excellent additional big playmaker to pair with Tua Tagovailoa.

5. Carolina Panthers

Lance so far has decided not to play for a bigger, non-FCS school with the mighty Bison program that produced Carson Wentz sidelined this season, with the exception of a reported October showcase game. Lance keeps gaining steam thanks to the impressive physical and athletic skills he displayed in his first full season of action (2,786 yards passing, 28 TDs, zero INTs, 1,100 yards rushing, 14 more TDs). His name is only a few letters different from Trevor Lawrence and there arguably is no dropoff to Lance. The Panthers thinking more future vs. Teddy Bridgewater makes sense for Joe Brady and Matt Rhule.

6. Detroit Lions

Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon (6-5, 325 pounds)

The Lions have been hesitant to lock up solid left tackle Taylor Decker, who just turned 27 ahead of his pending unrestricted free agency in 2021. Sewell, who solidified his status with the Ducks last season, fits Detroit’s mentality of wanting stronger run blocking but also can give sturdy enough pass protection.

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7. Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals added former Vikings Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander to their secondary in free agency but need to consider a replacement for disappointing 2016 first-rounder William Jackson, unsigned for 2021. Wade has nice size and like former Buckeyes teammate Jeffrey Okudah, is active and instinctive in coverage. This is a good OSU follow up to Burrow.

8. New York Giants

The Giants signed James Bradberry in free agency but DeAndre Baker is looking like a first-round bust in one way or another. Surtain, with his pedigree, size and ballhawking skills, has the potential to be a true shutdown player in Patrick Graham’s defense.

9. Chicago Bears

Moore, hampered by a hamstring injury as a sophomore after being a freshman big-play sensation in 2018, opted out before Purdue’s season was postponed. He is a versatile athlete and an explosive catch or carry waiting to happen. The Bears need more pop in their offense and it would be hard to pass on up Moore as they likely try push their offense forward with a new QB.

10. Denver Broncos

The Broncos are weak at the tackles in front of Drew Lock with trending bust Garett Bolles on the left and Elijah Wilkinson on the right. Leatherwood is an elite athlete who can become a top overall blocker should he keep working on his strength and technique.

11. Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders have had disappointing tackle play from the combination of Kolton MIller and Trent Brown, and have a dead-money free out from Brown’s contract after the 2020 season. Cosmi is a massive prospect for the position with nimble feet to match.

12. Indianapolis Colts

The Colts will need to address cornerback early next year after not doing so in 2020. Farley has developed into a sound cover man and uses both his hands and big frame well to make plays on the ball. He made a wise decision to opt out after what turned out to be a big final season with the Hokies.

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13. Tennessee Titans

The Titans just hit on A.J. Brown but took a major whiff with Corey Davis. Bateman would be a nice-sized big-play replacement to complement Brown. Before opting out pre-Big Ten postponement in 2020, Bateman put up 60 catches for 1,201 yards and !1 TDs working opposite Buccaneers draft pick Tyler Johnson in 2019.

14. Los Angeles Chargers

Little returned to school only to see the Cardinal postpone the season along with the rest of the Pac-12, putting him in the same boat as division rival Sewell. The Chargers signed Bryan Bulaga for right tackle but stuck with weak Sam Tevi, a pending 2021 free agent, on the left side. Little would be a fine replacement and upgrade.

15. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Rams for Jalen Ramsey)

The Jaguars strongly considered linebacker, edge rusher and secondary in the 2020 draft, so it follows they would be more into this defensive position in 2021, looking to give third-round rookie Davon Hamilton a strong complement. Wilson easily could have come out and gone in the first round this year coming off a highly disruptive 5-sack season for the Seminoles. 

16. Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons need more out of Takk McKinley, a pending 2021 free agent, and have aging Allen Bailey as their best-looking end on the other side. They have been quiet defensively with this position of late, but it’s time to make noise with the explosive Basham, who is looking to build on 10 sacks and 18 tackles for loss for the Demon Deacons.

17. Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals need to replace J.R. Sweezy, a pending 2021 free agent, to further upgrade the offensive line in front of Kyler Murray and Kenyan Drake. Davis is ideal to be an elite right guard next to rookie right tackle Josh Jones and with no more play, already showed plenty in the way of paving the way for the Buckeyes’ prolific rushing attack.

18. Green Bay Packers

The Packers have many offensive line free agency issues looming, including center Corey Linsley and backup guard Lane Taylor. Starting left guard Elgton Jenkins is a developing star, but right guard Billy Turner isn’t the most reliable blocker. Humphrey combines athleticism with a mean hand punch. He remains a first-rounder after opting to return to school.

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19. Cleveland Browns

The Browns did their best to replace Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey on the second level, but with other positions taking precedence this year before a flyer on Jacob Phillips, they should be in the market for an active, rangy playmaker next year.  Parsons, ahead of his opt-out and conference postponement. had 109 total tackles including 5 sacks last season for the Nittany Lions. He is exactly what Cleveland needs to turn the corner defensively behind Myles Garrett.

20. San Francisco 49ers

Richard Sherman, K’Waun Williams and Ahkello Witherspoon are all pending unrestricted free agents. The Niners can turn to Sherman’s old program to get Adebo, who offers great ball skills and instincts to develop into a shutdown player. He had 8 interceptions in only 22 college games.

21. Miami Dolphins (from Texans for Laremy Tunsil)

The Dolphins invested in improving linebacker for Brian Flores, but they remain rather weak and limited inside th Jerome Baker, Raekwon McMillan and Elandon Roberts, with the latter two unsigned for 2021. Moses, rangy, instinctive and ideal for Flores’ defense, easily would have gone in the 2020 first round without the knee injury that wiped out his entire 2019 season in Tuscaloosa. Two seasons ago, Moses posted 86 tackles with 3.5 sacks.

22. Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings should be looking for pass-rushing help opposite Danielle Hunter with Everson Griffen gone. Landing a more situational type in 2020 fourth-rounder D.J. Wonnum, Roche can give them a better every-down player. The transfer had 13 sacks in his final season at Temple. He can prove himself more without Rousseau in Miami.

23. Buffalo Bills

With Spencer Long gone and retired and both Jon Feliciano and Brian Winters unsigned beyond 2020, the Bills need a right guard solution after bringing back Quinton Spain on the left side. Smith is a strong and powerful run blocker who fits their blocking scheme well.

24. Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles brought back Rodney McLeod but there’s a good chance they move on from fellow starter Jalen Mills, a relocated cornerback and pending free agent. Holland, like Seweii, won’t be able to do much to boost his stock during a Ducks-less season, but he’s coming off a very impressive sophomore campaign where he had 4.5 tackles for loss and four interceptions. He has nice size and a well-rounded skill set to play either spot.

25. New England Patriots

The Patriots will need defensive line help with Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler going into free agency in 2021. Bill Belichick has a natural affinity for players in Nick Saban’s highly pro-styled 3-4 defense and Barmore is looking more disruptive than his teammate LaBryan Ray. Barmore combines strength and power with great technique and is someone to watch shooting up the board.

26. Dallas Cowboys

Nasirildeen has literally stood out on film early in the draft process with his big frame that comes with a great wingspan and build with which to make big plays. He needs to keep developing in coverage, but he already performs well like an extra linebacker hybrid type. The Cowboys could definitely use that kind of presence in their secondary to replace pending free agent Xavier Woods.

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27. Pittsburgh Steelers

There’s a feeling the Steelers may not re-sign JuJu Smith-Schuster, who’s in the final year of his rookie contract. Should that scenario develop, they can go after Waddle, who should produce a lot more big plays from 33 catches, 560 yards and 6 TDs with Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III gone to the NFL. Waddle would be a great fit working off Diontae Johnson.

28. New Orleans Saints

The Saints have some concerns up front in 2021 with Sheldon Rankins, Mario Edwards Jr. and Margus Hunt heading into free agency. Tufele posted 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss in his seemingly final Trojans season. He can give New Orleans some needed new juice and energy inside to help Cameron Jordan.

29. Baltimore Ravens

Rumph is another ACC pass rusher trying to build on a strong 2019 season with his league in action, trying to catch up to the opting-out Rousseau. Rumph posted 6.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss in a big jump from a solid debut season in Durham. The Ravens should be interested in Rumph in this range as Matthew Judon remains difficult to sign for the long term.

BIGGEST NFL DRAFT STEALS:
Round 4 | Round 5 | Round 6 | Round 7

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs are getting one more season from aging and still effective Ndamukong Suth but they need to think of getting a younger explosive, disruptive presence at the position. Twyman ripped through offensive lines for 10.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss in 2019.

31. New York Jets (from Seahawks for Jamal Adams)

The Jets are likely in their end game with Le’veon Bell, this season, regardless of whether Adam Gase returns as offensive-minded head coach in 2021. They need to push for fresh legs and more big-play ability in the backfield. Etienne is back in school trying to build on his 2,046 scrimmage yards and 23 touchdowns as a open-field home-run hitter.

32. Kanssa City Chiefs

Smith and Waddle should be next year’s Jeudy and Ruggs in the first round. The Chiefs will be looking for wideout help to support Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman for Patrick Mahomes with Sammy Watkins and DeMarcus Robinson unsigned for 2021. Smith posted 68 catches for 1,256 yards and 14 TDs last season, making his big share of big plays all over the field in a loaded receiving corps.

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