With the 26th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select…
For years, the NFL Draft was the equivalent of the Super Bowl for Cleveland Browns’ fans, and we approached it with similar excitement. With each passing year and Browns’ regime, Cleveland fans desperately hoped to find their franchise QB. But now, the Browns have finally found him. And for the first time in years, the Browns’ pick is closer to pick No. 32 than the Top 10.
Still, though, it should be an exciting 2021 offseason and NFL Draft. At least five quarterbacks have the potential to go in the first round, including potentially four in the Top 10, led by sure-fire franchise QB Trevor Lawrence. Three top-flight receivers, two of which hail from the National Champion Crimson Tide, should follow as well as an offensive tackle from my alma mater, Northwestern.
So without further ado, here is my NFL Mock Draft 1.0…
- Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson. Even though we’re still three months out from the 2021 NFL Draft, you can basically chisel this pick into stone. Trevor Lawrence will be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Gardner Minshew II may have shown few glimpses here and there, but he still finished 27th among 33 qualified QBs in Total QBR. With some help from the Jets, Browns and COVID-19, the Jaguars tanked their way to their next franchise QB.
- New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU. Maybe Joe Douglas and new Jets’ Head Coach Robert Saleh believe Sam Darnold is fixable. But the former first-round pick ranked last in the NFL in Total QBR in 2020 and has his fifth-year, fully-guaranteed option looming over the Jets this offseason. Chances are, it makes a lot more sense for New York to move on from Darnold and select, or trade for, their next franchise QB. If they aren’t able to find a trade partner, that decision should come down to Wilson or Ohio State’s Justin Fields.
- Miami Dolphins (Via Houston): Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU. Maybe Miami gives up on Tua Tagovailoa if they can trade him and their two first-round picks for Deshaun Watson. But if the Dolphins really want to properly evaluate Tagovailoa and figure out if he’s their franchise QB, they have to improve his arsenal. Yes, Tagovailoa ranked 26th in the NFL in Total QBR, but down-the-stretch, his best weapons were Myles Gaskin and Lynn Bowden Jr. Brian Flores and co. have to give Tagovailoa a WR1.
- Atlanta Falcons: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern. With Matt Ryan’s contract, it doesn’t make sense for the Falcons to select a QB. Yes, Ryan will turn 36 before the start of the 2021 season, but he’s also got three years and almost $60 million left on his contract, and will leave Atlanta with almost $40 million in dead cap room, even if they trade him after July 1. Instead, the Falcons can further solidify their offensive line, which ranked 16th in pass block win rate and 28th in run block win rate, to give Ryan and co. a chance at one last run. 2019 first-round OT Kaleb McGarry hasn’t lived up to his draft status, while OC Alex Mack is a free agent. Versatile enough to potentially line up anywhere across the Falcons’ offensive line, Slater can replace McGarry or even slide inside and take snaps at guard or center, if needed.
- Cincinnati Bengals: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon. Priority No. 1 for the Bengals this offseason has to be improving Joe Burrow’s protection and upgrade their offensive line. Cincinnati’s line ranked 30th in the NFL in 2020, and 29th in pass block win rate. When healthy, 2019 first-round OT Jonah Williams has been solid, but Cincinnati really needs to bolster its other tackle spot opposite him.
- Philadelphia Eagles: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama. Eagles’ fans will clamor for a receiver here, and rightfully so, as Philadelphia’s offense ranked 28th in the NFL in 2020. DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffrey and Zach Ertz all suffered their fair share of injuries, while neither Jalen Reagor nor Travis Fulgham seems cut out to be a WR1. No matter who’s under center for the Eagles in 2021, they’re going to need better weapons if Philadelphia wants to return to the top of the NFC East.
- Detroit Lions: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State. The Lions moved on from QB Matthew Stafford, trading him to the Rams to kick off the rebuild in Detroit. And while the Lions did receive former No. 1-overall pick Jared Goff in the deal, its highly doubtful Dan Campbell and co. see Goff as Detroit’s quarterback of the future, especially with Goff’s massive contract. Instead, there’s a good chance the Lions target their future franchise QB with this selection, and then allow him to sit a year or two behind Goff.
- Carolina Panthers: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State. Matt Rhule and co. used every one of their draft picks in 2020 on defense, and now Carolina can turn its attention to the offensive side of the ball and find their franchise QB. Teddy Bridgewater performed amicably in his first season in Carolina, but he’s more of a stop-gap than a franchise QB, and the Panthers can easily cut or trade him. Lance might not be as pro-ready as Wilson or Fields, but the talent and worth-ethic are there to develop into a franchise QB.
- Denver Broncos: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State. John Elway is no longer in charge of player personnel in Denver, having whiffed on his past few quarterback selections. And while the jury probably isn’t still out on Drew Lock, Head Coach Vic Fangio having more say probably means the Broncos will look to upgrade an aging defense that finished in the bottom third of the NFL in both pass rush and run stop win rate. And with Von Miller under criminal investigation and coming off another injury-riddled season, Fangio has to be thinking about a replacement.
- Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama. With a healthy Dak Prescott and offensive line, Dallas’ offense should return to its explosive, 2019 form. But its the Cowboys defense that needs a lot of work after ranking 23rd in the NFL, allowing 11.6 yards per completion. And while the Cowboys drafted a corner in Trevon Diggs, neither he nor free agent to be Chidobe Awuzie played well at all. Dallas needs a top-flight corner, and Surtain II, coming from Nick Saban’s system, is a polished, NFL-ready prospect.
- New York Giants: Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan. James Bradberry proved to be a shutdown corner for the Giants when healthy in 2020, but the Giants’ front-seven didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. New York’s defense finished the year ranked 19th in the NFL, with a league-worst pass rush win rate. New York has two space-eaters up-front in Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson and Dexter Lawrence, but they have to improve their pass rush.
- San Francisco 49ers: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech. Even if the 49ers move on from Jimmy Garoppolo, I have a hard time seeing Kyle Shanahan rolling with a rookie at QB. Rather, Shanahan and John Lynch might target a veteran like Stafford or Watson, and shore up a few other areas of need in the draft. And with every single 49ers’ cornerback hitting free agency this offseason, adding a corner or two has to be high atop the list.
- Los Angeles Chargers: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech. The Chargers’ offensive line was again one of the worst in the NFL and ranked 32nd in the NFL, 31st in pass block win rate and 32nd in run block win rate, even after adding OT Bryan Bulaga and OG Trai Turner in the offseason. 2020 first-round pick Justin Herbert sure looked like the real deal down the stretch, but the Chargers have to better protect Herbert if they want the former Oregon Duck to succeed.
- Minnesota Vikings: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami. Minnesota’s defense took a significant step back in 2020, in large part, due to a poor pass rush that ranked 30th in the NFL in pass rush win rate. And while the Vikings should get DE Danielle Hunter back from injury in 2021, Minnesota needs to add another pass rusher opposite him.
- New England Patriots: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida. New England just doesn’t have playmakers anymore on offense. Julian Edelman isn’t the receiver he once was, and there’s nobody else in New England that you really trust to make a play with the game on-the-line. Pitts, one of the most dynamic playmakers in college football in 2020, would certainly change that. With the ability to line up all over the formation, Pitts would give whoever is under center for New England a dynamic weapon the Patriots haven’t had since Gronk.
- Arizona Cardinals: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama. QB Kyler Murray and WR DeAndre Hopkins form a dynamic duo on offense, but outside of those two, Arizona doesn’t have a ton of playmaking-talent on offense. RB Kenyan Drake is oft-injured, has underperformed and is a free agent, WR Larry Fitzgerald might retire and WR Christian Kirk hasn’t lived up to his draft-billing just yet. Unless Kliff Kingsburg wants to rely on RB Chase Edmunds, Arizona’s going to need a new bell-cow back.
- Las Vegas Raiders: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame. For the second-consecutive year, the Raiders had one of the worst defenses in football. Las Vegas finished the year with the 28th-ranked defense in the NFL, allowing 6.0 yards per play, 7.0 net yards per pass attempt and 4.6 yards per rush, all statistics that ranked in the bottom third of the NFL. New defensive coordinator Gus Bradley needs more playmakers on defense, and Owusu-Koramoah, a versatile, three-down defender, certainly would fit the bill.
- Miami Dolphins: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC. While the Dolphins made a number of additions to their offensive line in 2020, Miami’s protection and run blocking still has plenty of room to improve. Miami’s O-Line graded out as the 28th-best in the NFL, and finished in the bottom third of the NFL in both pass block and run block win rate. The Dolphins drafted Vera-Tucker’s USC teammate last season in OT Austin Jackson, and can further improve Tua’s protection with this selection.
- Washington Football Team: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama. Washington had the worst offense in football with the combination of Dwayne Haskins, Alex Smith, Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke under center in 2020. But unless Ron Rivera and co. trade up into the Top 10, odds are Washington will be starting a different veteran QB in 2021. And whether that’s Sam Darnold, Matthew Stafford or someone else, Washington can make their life a whole lot easier by upgrading their offensive talent. Terry McLaurin is a stud, but outside of the former Buckeye, Washington doesn’t have much talent at WR.
- Chicago Bears: Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama. The Bears need a new quarterback, and Ryan Pace would be a fool to extend Mitchell Trubisky. But Chicago also isn’t going to get their franchise QB without trading up from this selection, so instead, Pace can upgrade an offensive line that ranked 20th in the NFL. On their interior, Chicago has two solid players in Cody Whitehair and James Daniels, but the Bears could use an upgrade at RT, where Germain Ifedi is a free agent after a year of lackluster play.
- Indianapolis Colts: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina. The Colts has a Top 10 defense in 2020, but with top-rated CB Xavier Rhodes hitting free agency next month and turning 31 in June, and 2019 second-round pick Rock Ya-Sin struggling to adjust to the NFL, Indianapolis could use another corner.
- Tennessee Titans: Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas. The Titans’ defense was bad in 2020. Tennessee signed Jadeveon Clowney to help upgrade their pass rush, but Clowney was limited with injuries, playing in just eight games and is once again a free agent. Overall, Tennessee’s defense ranked 29th in the NFL, and got pressure on opposite QBs at one of the lowest rates in the NFL. The Titans need to add talent at all three levels of their defense, but especially the pass rush.
- New York Jets (Via Seattle): Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State. The Jets’ 2020 first-round pick, OT Mekhi Becton, looks like New York’s left tackle of the future, grading out well even as he missed time with injuries. The rest of the Jets’ offensive line though, is another story. Overall, New York’s O-Line ranked 29th in the NFL, and 30th in both pass block and run block win rate. Whether it’s Darnold or Zach Wilson under center, New York has to better protect him or risk injury or stunting their development.
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson. The Steelers’ backfield combination of James Connor and Benny Snell Jr. averaged a league-worst 3.6 yards per attempt, and was basically non-existent down the stretch in Pittsburgh. At 38 and soon to be 39-years-old, QB Ben Roethlisberger can’t do it all himself, and Pittsburgh needs some semblance of a running game if they want to avoid falling behind the Ravens, Browns and potentially even the Bengals in the AFC North.
- Jacksonville Jaguars (Via LA Rams): Jalen Mayfield, OL, Michigan. Trevor Lawrence isn’t going to solve all of the Jaguars’ problems, but its certainly a start to improving the 27th-ranked offense in the NFL. The next step then is upgrade an offensive line that ranked 22nd in football, 25th in pass block win rate and 26th in run block win rate. The Jaguars saw first-hand what can happen to a No. 1-overall pick who isn’t well protected, and both OTs, Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor could use an upgrade.
- Cleveland Browns: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa. Though the Browns won their first playoff game since 1994, their defense needs a lot of work. Cleveland’s defense ranked 25th in the NFL in 2020, and was a sieve whenever CB Denzel Ward was out, whether that was due to injury or COVID-19. Ward and Myles Garrett are sensational talents, but Cleveland needs upgrades almost everywhere else and especially at linebacker, where the Browns a severely lacking speed and playmaking-ability.
- Baltimore Ravens: Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia. All four of Baltimore’s top EDGE rushers: Tyus Bowser, Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee and Yannick Ngakoue, are set to hit free agency this offseason, and odds are, Eric DeCosta won’t be able to retain all of them. Instead, DeCosta and the Ravens might retain one or two and look to get younger at the position by adding an EDGE rusher or two via the draft.
- New Orleans Saints: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota. The Saints head into what will be a tumultuous offseason, with Drew Brees retiring and almost $100 million over the expected cap number. New Orleans will need to get younger and cheaper at a number of positions, and with one of their potential cuts being WR Emmanuel Sanders, adding young wideout to play across from Michael Thomas makes some sense.
- Green Bay Packers: Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU. Is this the offseason the Packers’ finally find Aaron Rodgers another wide receiver? Rodgers clamored for a wideout last offseason, but instead, Green Bay traded up for Rodgers’ potential replacement in Jordan Love. But after Rodgers and co. came up short again in the NFC Championship Game, the Packers should acquiesce to Rodgers’ wishes and add another receiver to take some coverage away from DaVante Adams and further open up the Packers’ offense. As the Chiefs have shown, you can never have too many weapons on offense.
- Buffalo Bills: Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri. Keeping up with the Chiefs is the name of the game in the AFC moving forward, and that starts on the edges of Buffalo’s defense. Though the Bills’ defense finished the regular season ranked 12th in the NFL, Patrick Mahomes and co. exposed some weaknesses in the backend and secondary. And whether or not Buffalo re-signs LB Matt Milano, Buffalo could use some more speed and coverage ability at linebacker, especially if/when we get a Bills vs. Chiefs rematch.
- Kansas City Chiefs: Landon Dickerson, IOL, Alabama. Patrick Mahomes is so good, but as the Super Bowl showed, even he can only do so much under constant pressure behind a patch-work offensive line. OT Eric Fisher tore his Achilles in the AFC Championship game, OG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif opted out before the start of the season and OT Mitchell Schwartz has been out with a back injury for weeks. A porous offensive line haunted Kansas City in Super Bowl LV, so expect Brett Veach and co. to add an offensive lineman or two this offseason.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami. The Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the only team in the NFL to finish the regular season in the Top 5 in both Offensive and Defensive DVOA. And with Tom Brady back for another year, the Buccaneers don’t have a ton of glaring holes. But with four key members of their defensive front set to hit free agency including EDGE Shaq Barrett, Tampa Bay may find themselves in need another pass rusher, depending on how free agency plays out.