The NFL Draft is just three weeks away, so I wanted to give a run-down of the first round as I currently see it. To be clear, this is a projection of what I think teams will do, not what I would do in their positions.
1 - Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
This has been locked in since Jacksonville “earned” the first overall pick at the conclusion of the season. No need to waste much time on this one.
2 - Jets - Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
The speculation has been that this pick would be Wilson for a bit now, and Jet management all but confirmed it by trading Sam Darnold and being less coy in interviews.
3 - 49ers - Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
This pick is still being highly-speculated upon, but when Adam Schefter speaks, it is typically wise to listen.
With other plugged-in insiders such as Daniel Jeremiah and Peter Schrager being on this selection, we can have a fairly high degree of confidence that Jones will be the pick. For those who still believe the 49ers are a fortress of informational integrity, your king basically admitted what logic would dictate: there is less of a need to be secretive now that the draft is basically in your hands.
Nothing is certain until the name is announced, but this feels Wilson-ish from about a month ago.
4 - Falcons - Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
This is where the real intrigue starts in my opinion. Atlanta is likely to be a hot name in the trade market for teams that are interested in either Justin Fields or Trey Lance, but the price may prove too big to stomach. Especially with two teams presumably not interested in taking a QB at five and six, there should be a clean runway for QB-needy teams that does not involve the Falcons.
At this point, I think there are three possible outcomes for this pick:
Select a QB (It is rumored Trey Lance would be their preference)
Draft the best player available (Pitts)
Trade back (and presumably select defense)
Matt Ryan recently had his contract restructured in a way that leaves a massive cap hit if he is cut after next season (I know people have mentioned that the cap hit is lower as a post-June 1 cut, but it is still a TON), and 36 is not as old as we once thought for a pocket passer like Ryan. The team can add an alien to the offense to pair with Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones and try to squeeze every remaining ounce from Ryan’s career.
5 - Bengals - Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
The consensus right now is that this pick will either be an offensive tackle or Joe Burrow’s former teammate in Chase. I could really see either happening here, but the latter is becoming more and more apparent by the day. Albert Breer reported that the reason Philly traded out of of the sixth pick was their belief that the Bengals would select Chase, and many of the best draft insiders have moved away from Penei Sewell at five. Cincy can address the offensive line on Day 2; there isn’t a WR available at that time as talented as Chase.
6 - Dolphins - Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Miami is another team that I expect to have a lot of options when they are on the clock. They have already been extremely active in this draft, moving down from three to 12 before trading back up to six in the span of about an hour. It has been long-assumed that they will be in the market for a receiver, or would take Sewell if Cincy went with Chase.
However, I’m not too sure that is Miami’s plan. For starters, the Dolphins have Austin Jackson — a first round selection from last year — at left tackle. Sixth overall — and particularly a move up to six — seems like a steep price to pay for a right tackle. It makes more sense that the Dolphins would want another weapon to aide Tua Tagovailoa’s development.
If you believe that, it isn’t much further of a stretch to believe they wouldn’t leave that in the Bengals’ hands. Especially if the team they traded with was doing so presuming Cincy was taking Chase, it is possible their actual plan is to re-unite Tua with one of his former teammates in Devonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle. I would lean Waddle in that instance given the edge in tested athleticism.
There is also the possible outcome that another QB-needy team in the top-10 offers Miami a truck-load on draft day to acquire one of the remaining QBs. Based on what this front office has shown in the past, they could happily move back.
7 - Lions - Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Detroit traded Matt Stafford for Jared Goff and draft picks earlier this off-season, and will have the latter under contract for at least two more seasons before his cap number is manageable enough to let go. From a roster-building perspective, Detroit’s grand plan could be to build up the roster, and then take a QB in a season or two.
But sometimes great things just fall into your lap. I’m not sure the Lions could, or should, pass on Fields. Last summer, Fields versus Lawrence was — to me — a legitimate conversation. To see him still available at seven seems odd, yet highly plausible. And if the Lions don’t want Fields, I’d imagine another team would be looking to trade up to take him in this spot.
8 - Panthers - Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
Carolina entered the off-season with three major needs: QB, offensive line, and corner. They traded for Sam Darnold after attempting to get every other QB on the market. Though that does not necessarily take them out of the QB race, it certainly lowers the odds that is the pick here. Just this week, the Panthers signed A.J. Bouye to satisfy one of their starting CB spots.
That leaves offensive line. Jeremiah and Schrager have both indicated that Slater could actually be the first lineman drafted, and that at least some teams have him ahead of Sewell. It is looking more and more like he will land inside of the top-10.
9 - Broncos - Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
There’s a lot to love about Drew Lock. For instance, he is a fabulous dancer.
Unfortunately, he also has to play QB! And Lock does not appear to be very good at that. Finding someone else to distribute the ball to the multitude of weapons in Denver has to be a priority. Lance had 42 total touchdowns and zero interceptions as a sophomore at NDSU (okay fine, he did lose a fumble). Multiplicity behind center would be a treat for defensive-minded head coach Vic Fangio.
10 - Cowboys - Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
Dallas has needs on defense — particularly in the secondary — but may not be able to pass on the upside of Sewell here. The Cowboys just invested $126 million guaranteed in Dak Prescott, who will be coming off of a major injury, and both Tyron Smith and La’el Collins are coming off of season-ending injuries as well. Collins has experience at guard, and could easily kick inside to improve the overall offensive front.
11 - Giants - Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama
The Kenny Golladay signing makes this a little more murky, but New York’s weaponry has been highly over-rated for a couple of seasons. Smith would instantly be their number two option, and would set up Daniel Jones to either succeed or be replaced. The Giants were strong on defense in 2020, but need to score more points to be anywhere near playoff contention.
12 - Eagles - Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
The Eagles would love for one of the top WRs to make it to them at 12, but are likely comfortable with getting their pick of the elite defensive players as well. Philly lost Jalen Mills in free-agency, and will need someone to step in opposite Darius Slay. Horn ran a blistering 4.39 40-yard dash at his pro day, while also looking strong and explosive. I am not a film-grinder, but everything I read seems to indicate that Horn would be a better fit in Jonathan Gannon’s zone-heavy scheme than Patrick Surtain. Both are elite players, so I don’t think this is a reach.
13 - Chargers - Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
While he may not be a fit for the Eagles, Surtain would look great in the powder blue unis of the Chargers. This team also needs to work on protecting Justin Herbert, but would be settling for a player in a different tier of talent to do so. They shore up the defense for new head coach Brandon Staley, and follow suit of a couple other teams in addressing the o-line in Round 2.
14 - Vikings - Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
Minnesota released Riley Reiff, and now have a massive hole at left tackle to fill. They could also be in line for a pass-rushing help, but I’m not sure if any of them will go this high.
15 - Patriots - Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
I expect New England to be heavily involved in the QB market after filling a bunch of needs, but if they can’t make that happen, Parsons seems like an attractive candidate to add to their defense. As Ryan McCrystal outlines, Parsons is a candidate to fall on draft day:
Parsons is a top talent, so I’m not sure he will fall all the way to the end of the first round like Zierlein does.
16 - Cardinals - Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Defensive mainstay Patrick Peterson is now a Viking, leaving Arizona with a sizable hole at cornerback. Farley was a projected top-10 option prior to having back surgery, but positive medical re-checks could recover some of his draft stock.
17 - Raiders - Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
JOW is another athletically impressive linebacking option, and a candidate to jump Parsons in my opinion on draft day. The Raider defense is atrocious, and greatly needs some upgrades. Las Vegas seemingly let go of their entire offensive line over the off-season too, so they could certainly make a move there as well.
18 - Dolphins - Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
Paye looks to be the top defensive lineman in the draft, but it is unclear where he may come off the board. I have seen him as high as 10 to the Cowboys, but he probably wouldn’t make it past Miami here. Tua got his help with the team’s first pick, so the Dolphins can invest back into the defense with confidence.
19 - Football Team - Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC
Washington has one of the best defenses in the entire league, but need to improve on offense. This has already been a focal point for the team, making major additions on that side of the ball in free-agency, but they still need help up front. Vera-Tucker is versatile and effective, making him the perfect pick.
20 - Bears - Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
Chicago could use help up front, but have a need at corner as well after releasing Kyle Fuller. Newsome seems to be preferred over the best available tackles at this juncture by overall scouting grades.
21 - Colts - Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
Anthony Castonzo retired after the 2020 season, making tackle a major need. If Indy wants to get Carson Wentz back into Pro Bowl form, he can’t be running for his life like he was during stretches with the Eagles.
22 - Titans - Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
The Titans could be in the market for a receiver after losing both Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith in free agency, but Tennessee has some needs on defense as well. Corner is probably a bigger hole than edge rusher, but the former could be a reach with these players available.
23 - Jets - Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
New York is a popular team for one of the top RBs to be mocked to, but new head coach Robert Saleh has seen first-hand that you don’t need a top RB to get top RB production. Instead they focus on defense, with Collins coming in as an immediate three-down player. Receiver is an option here as well, but I actually like what the Jets have right now in terms of weapons for Zach Wilson
24 - Steelers - Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
Pittsburgh is another team that has routinely had RB or OT help mocked to them, but they have not typically been a team to make picks like that. Ojulari keeps the defense operating at a high level, and has been a riser since testing well at his pro day.
25 - Jaguars - Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
This may be a bit of a reach, but the number one rule of drafting a QB is you need to set him up for success. Jacksonville’s tackle play was terrible last season, and will need to be upgraded in order to maximize Lawrence.
26 - Browns - Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky
Davis blew up his pro day, and has been a quick riser up the board in recent weeks.
This may ultimately be too low for Davis, but it seems like a good fit for now at 26.
27 - Ravens - Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
Baltimore is one of the more analytically-driven teams in the league, and typically that means taking the best player available or trading back. Moehrig is the top safety in this class, and a versatile defender overall. The Ravens will be in the receiver market as well, but I’m not sure they could pass on the overall talent of Moehrig to fill a need.
28 - Saints - Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU
There are plenty of potential WR options in the late first round, but Marshall may be the best option for New Orleans. He would complement “slant boi” Michael Thomas well, and is exactly the kind of vertical threat you want when your team is quarterbacked by Jameis Winston.
29 - Packers - Landon Dickerson, C, Alabama
Much to the dismay of Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay did not re-sign starting center Corey Linsley in the off-season. So instead of finally taking a WR in the first round to complement Davante Adams, the Packers fill that need here.
30 - Bills - Jaelen Phillips, EDGE, Miami
This is later than most mocks will have Phillips, but I could honestly see him falling out of the first round entirely by the end of April. Phillips had an intense medical history — particularly with concussions — that had him retiring from football after the 2018 season at UCLA. With that said, he stayed healthy in 2020 and looks every bit a top prospect. The Bills could gamble on that upside as they make a championship push.
31 - Chiefs - Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame
Kansas City simply cannot enter the 2021 season with their current tackle play and expect to both keep Patrick Mahomes upright, and compete for another title.
32 - Bucs - Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
After bringing back basically their entire championship roster, Tampa does not have a ton of needs. All indications are, however, that they will be looking to draft defense with this selection, and the Bucs have multiple defensive linemen whose contracts expire after 2021.