Guest column by Benjamin Robinson
We made it, everyone! It’s officially NFL draft week (or the week before the draft since that’s when I’m technically writing this article). Through the twists and turns of a college football season that almost didn’t happen to not having a combine, this has been another unprecedented draft process. I don’t have much else to say, except: may the NFL draft odds ever be in my favor here and in The Huddle Report Mock Draft Contest.
A quick reminder on the ground rules I’m using for this mock draft. I’m not projecting any trades and I only take these things into account when formulating where I think a player is going to be selected and by whom:
- the player’s Expected Draft Position;
- the drafting team’s most mocked players and positions;
- the drafting team’s history of selecting players earlier or later than expectation.
For reference, here is the mock draft we did before free agency.
Here we go!
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Do I need to say anything here? Trevor Lawrence has been the No. 1 pick in 99% of the 1,000-plus mock drafts I have collected this draft season. Crown him!
2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
This pick seems as written in stone as the Trevor Lawrence selection at this point, albeit for much less time. The draft starts at Pick 3 or Pick 4 depending on your opinion.
3. San Francisco 49ers (from Miami via Houston): Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
The Mac Jones hype train has been a sight to behold this draft season. I recognize that there is some well-documented cognitive dissonance from 49ers fans and the general draftnik community around the idea of Jones being drafted with the third overall pick. It is just hard to ignore that some of the sharpest mock drafters in the industry are leaning this way; we should take them at their word.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Here are the exact words that I wrote in my Pre-Free Agency Mock Draft last month:
Justin Fields had been QB2 for most of the draft process until Zach Wilson passed him early on this year. At 7.5 Pythagorean wins, the Falcons underperformed their expected record in 2020 given their fundamentals, and with regression next year they likely won’t be picking in the range where they could draft a top-of-the-line quarterback prospect such as Fields. And when you have that opportunity with an aging quarterback, like the Chargers did last year, you pretty much have to take it.
These words still hold for me.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
Since my last mock draft, there has been an increase in support among some Bengals fans for the team to address another need for the Joe Burrow-led offense: wide receiver. With that being said, the combination of offensive tackle as a position and Penei Sewell as the player to the Bengals is hard to ignore, so my pick stays with Sewell (although Ja’Marr Chase received ample consideration as well). The Bengals will then most likely look to improve their wide receiver room on Day 2 of the draft.
6. Miami (from Philadelphia): Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
The Dolphins shocked the NFL world by trading down with the 49ers and then surprised us again by trading up with the Eagles to acquire this pick. Picking at six versus picking at 12 positions the team well to draft a high-impact player in the receiving game, and they get that in Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, who is viewed by many analysts as the top non-quarterback in the draft class and the best tight end prospect since Vernon Davis.
7. Detroit Lions: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
When the Lions decided to let Kenny Golladay declare for free agency, they created a glaring hole on their team. Trading down could help net more picks to fill the multitude of deficiencies in the roster, but I’m not projecting any trades in this mock. Chase has been the top-rated wide receiver throughout the majority of this draft process and would offer Jared Goff an elite receiving prospect to help kick off the rebuild of the Lions franchise in style.
8. Carolina Panthers: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
Outside of the quarterback position, which the Panthers “addressed” (see what I did there) with the acquisition of 2018 Expected Draft Position QB1 Sam Darnold, offensive tackle is the position most selected by draftniks for the Panthers. After a 2020 NFL draft where the team selected only defensive players, taking Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater, the top-rated offensive lineman left on the board by Expected Draft Position, is a step in the right direction toward evening out the Panthers’ draft allocation on offense.
9. Denver Broncos: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
While Trey Lance has a solid chance of being the third or even the fourth pick overall, I think it’s more likely, given the emergence of Mac Jones as a top-five pick, that he falls a little bit but not out of the top 10. One of the toughest evaluations of any player in this draft class (given his one season of starting experience in the FCS and a limited number of passing attempts), Lance offers the Broncos the possibility of an upgrade at the position that is likely holding them back the most from competing in the AFC West.
10. Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Surtain, CB, Alabama
Patrick Surtain’s Expected Draft Position has held solidly around this 10th overall selection for quite some time, so this selection makes a ton of sense. The Cowboys had a multitude of problems in 2020 that led to them underperforming preseason expectations and one of them was their defense, which ranked in the lower half of the league in DVOA. In the 2020 draft, the Cowboys acquired Surtain’s Alabama teammate Trevon Diggs; in the 2021 draft, they pair him with Surtain himself in new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s new-look secondary.
11. New York Giants: Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan
It has mostly been a fool’s errand, outside of the selection of running back Saquon Barkley in the 2018 NFL draft, to match a player to the Giants using Expected Draft Position alone. Investing the team’s first-round pick on defense may seem counterintuitive, but the Giants’ defense has a stronger reputation in league circles than their advanced statistics show: DVOA had them as a middle-of-the-pack defense in 2020. Selecting Michigan’s Kwity Paye, who is ranked more than a few slots below their pick in Expected Draft Position, would continue David Gettleman’s trend of picking players earlier than expected … unless he decides to pull a fast one and trade down.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (from San Francisco via Miami): Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
The Eagles look like an organization on the edge of a rebuild (perhaps at this time next year I’ll be mocking Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler to the Eagles in the top 10?), and just like in the leadup to the 2020 NFL draft, wide receiver is the position most mocked to them by draftniks. Instead of going against the grain as they did in 2020 when they drafted TCU’s Jalen Reagor, they stick to Expected Draft Position and select Alabama speedster Jaylen Waddle, who will eclipse his Heisman Trophy-winning teammate DeVonta Smith on draft night.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
The Chargers did not surprise outside observers by drafting Oregon’s Justin Herbert at pick No. 6 overall in 2020. However, they did surprise analysts by trading back into the first round to select Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray. This year they don’t surprise draftniks with their first-round pick by drafting Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, the player most mocked to them. With this selection, Herbert can hopefully sleep a little bit easier after Night 1 of the draft.
14. Minnesota Vikings: Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami
The Vikings are one of my favorite teams when it comes to the draft, and it’s mostly because without fail general manager Rick Spielman always turns into “Trader Rick” and wheels and deals his way into having many more draft picks than he started with. In this scenario, with no trades to be had, Trader Rick will have to settle with improving the Vikings’ defensive line. Phillips has dealt with concussion issues in the past that may cause him to fall in the draft but it’s very hard to say how much.
15. New England Patriots: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
No team was more impacted by the combination of injuries and COVID-19 opt-outs than the 2020 Patriots per Football Outsiders’ own Adjusted Games Lost metric. Bill Belichick’s best Patriots defenses have been built with a focus on the secondary, and with an aging Stephon Gilmore, he could use an infusion of youth and talent. The Patriots have also been a notoriously difficult team to project using Expected Draft Position, but could the departure of Nick Caserio to the Texans signal a return to more value-based drafting? The selection of Jaycee Horn says this could be the case.
16. Arizona Cardinals: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
With Jaycee Horn coming off the board a pick earlier, the Cardinals lose out on their most-mocked player. The Cardinals are one of the best value-seeking teams in the NFL when it comes to drafting players later than their expectation, and they continue this trend by drafting Alabama’s DeVonta Smith. The 2020 Heisman Trophy-winner who lit up the National Championship Game would add another threat for Kyler Murray to throw to and free up coverage from DeAndre Hopkins in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
With the run of picks the Raiders received from the Bears in the Khalil Mack trade at an end, it is now more paramount than ever for the Raiders to get their draft selections right. In 2019 and 2020, they simultaneously surprised draftniks with a selection while also selecting players around expectation. In 2021, I have the Silver and Black targeting Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins to protect Derek Carr and add a player with a heck of a mean streak (just ask Texas linebacker Joseph Ossai).
18. Miami Dolphins: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, OLB, Notre Dame
The Dolphins have stacked up quite an arsenal of draft picks and use this selection to add a versatile defender to their borderline top-10 defensive unit (by the wonderful DVOA). Owusu-Koramoah follows in the tradition of versatile defensive players such as Derwin James and Isaiah Simmons, the types of players defensive coordinators covet as the NFL shifts more and more towards “positionless” football: great at coverage and stout in run support.
19. Washington Football Team: Micah Parsons, OLB, Penn State
A well-documented off-field issue at Penn State, an opt-out year, and playing a non-premium position such as off-ball linebacker all contribute to Parsons falling a tad here, but Washington isn’t one to complain. The new administration took WFT to the playoffs last season in a down NFC East where they relied on a top-five DVOA defense. In his time with the Panthers, Ron Rivera coveted an athletic linebacker patrolling the line of scrimmage. He gets that in Parsons who excelled as a pass rusher too.
20. Chicago Bears: Alijah Vera-Tucker, G, USC
The Bears are truly in draft purgatory: too low to trade up and draft a franchise quarterback that they desperately need and also the owner of a roster with plenty of holes. In this mock draft, I have the Bears selecting the first interior offensive lineman to come off the board, USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker. Although he excelled at offensive tackle in his final college season, many draftniks project him to play guard in the NFL as his arms are a bit short relative to the thresholds teams like tackles to have.
21. Indianapolis Colts: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
At one point, Caleb Farley was in a battle with Alabama’s Patrick Surtain to be the first cornerback drafted. Then the announcement of a surgical procedure on his back (his second) along with a torn ACL earlier in his career have pushed him down in mock drafts to later in the first round. Not as much of a value pick at this point, Chris Ballard and company can add Farley to a Colts’ defense that ranked near the top in DVOA as Carson Wentz takes the reins of the offense from a retiring Philip Rivers.
22. Tennessee Titans: Azeez Ojulari, OLB, Georgia
Azeez Ojulari is everything the Titans like in a first-round draft pick: he played in the Southeastern Conference at an elite level. Just because last year’s first-round selection Isaiah Wilson has already seemingly flamed out of the NFL doesn’t mean they don’t go back to Georgia for Ojulari, who has the opportunity to help improve the Titans’ near-the-bottom-of-the-NFL pass defense by DVOA, where Jadeveon Clowney failed to make much of an impact in 2020.
23. New York Jets (from Seattle): Zaven Collins, OLB, Tulsa
This is the first of the draft picks traded by the Seahawks to the Jets in the Jamal Adams deal, and general manager Joe Douglas uses it to select the 2020 Bronko Nagurski award winner: Tulsa’s Zaven Collins. Another “tweener” player, stuck between an edge rusher and an off-ball linebacker, Collins figures to add a dynamic element to Robert Salah’s new-look Jets defense. The first running back could come off the board here but the 49ers scheme that Salah brought with him to the Jets can succeed with undrafted free agents, so why spend a high draft pick on one?
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
The Steelers have telegraphed their interest in Alabama’s Najee Harris pretty hard. Harris hopes to continue in the line of productive Alabama running backs such as Derrick Henry and Josh Jacobs making an early impact in the NFL. The Steelers bring back an experienced quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger and a dynamic wide receiver room but lack the cohesive offensive line that helped pave the way for Le’Veon Bell. They seemingly put the cart before the horse here, so to speak, but can select an offensive lineman in the later rounds as it’s one of the deepest position groups in the 2021 NFL draft.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (from L.A. Rams): Trevon Moehrig, SS, TCU
This is the second of two first-round picks traded by the Rams to the Jaguars as part of the Jalen Ramsey swap in 2019. The Jaguars used the first pick from the trade on LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson in 2020, but with a new regime in town led by Urban Meyer, they draft an athletic strong safety to shore up their secondary alongside the newly acquired Rayshawn Jenkins. With five picks in the top 100, the Jaguars have the draft capital to fill many of their other needs such as tight end, offensive line, or wide receiver—AKA the rest of their offense.
26. Cleveland Browns: Greg Newsome, CB, Northwestern
Andrew Berry was once quoted in a press conference as saying “You can never have enough corners.” I will take him at his word. The second Northwestern Wildcats player to be drafted in the first round in 2021 (which is a huge achievement for any program but especially for a program such as Northwestern), Greg Newsome had a pretty wild NFL draft process starting with a highly productive 2020 campaign and culminating with an elite pro day workout that helped to cement his first-round status as the CB4 by Expected Draft Position.
27. Baltimore Ravens: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
The Ravens were primed to regress from their awesome 2019 offense that was fueled by Lamar Jackson taking the team to new heights with both his legs and his arm. One thing that was missing from the 2020 edition of their offense was a go-to X-receiver. Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman would add that capability for Lamar Jackson, providing him with a receiving outlet other than Mark Andrews as 2019 first-round selection Marquise Brown has underwhelmed in his first two NFL seasons.
28. New Orleans Saints: Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami
Another player who opted out of the 2020 college football season goes in the first round (along with Penei Sewell, Ja’Marr Chase, Rashawn Slater, Micah Parsons, and Caleb Farley). Rousseau flashes potential and would contribute to the Saints’ attempt at reloading their top-five defense by DVOA as they move into a future that will be characterized by the absence of future Hall of Famer Drew Brees and massive salary cap issues. A strong defense could go a long way in helping the Saints maintain their current level of play as they figure out what’s next with Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill battling it out for snaps at the quarterback position.
29. Green Bay Packers: Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia
The Packers surprised draftniks (and their fans, to be honest) by taking Utah State’s Jordan Love in the 2020 NFL draft. Not only did Love not play a snap as a rookie, but Aaron Rodgers won the NFL MVP award, further muddying the quarterback waters in Green Bay. Unsurprisingly, the Packers were mocked wide receivers most often in 2020, and that is unchanged in 2021. I’m banking that the Packers do not break that tendency on Day 1 of the draft and instead decide to add another cornerback to their secondary. Even with the re-signing of the oft-maligned Kevin King, adding Georgia’s Eric Stokes gives the Packers and new defensive coordinator Joe Barry a speedy option at corner.
30. Buffalo Bills: Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
Many talent evaluators have said that this is the worst defensive tackle class in a long time. Because of that, I only have one defensive tackle going in the first round: Alabama’s Christian Barmore. The Bills have been one of the best value-seeking teams in the draft since 2018, reaping the rewards of drafting key contributors such as Ed Oliver and Tremaine Edmunds much later than their Expected Draft Position, and they continue that trend by drafting Barmore to pair with A.J. Epenesa on the interior.
31. Baltimore Ravens (from Kansas City): Asante Samuel, CB, Florida State
Similar to Jaycee Horn, who I mocked to the Patriots, Florida State’s Asante Samuel is the son of a former NFL great. I will once again repeat the Andrew Berry mantra: “You can never have enough corners.” This still applies!
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jayson Oweh, DE, Penn State
With the final pick in the first round, the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Bucs select Penn State defensive end Jayson Oweh. With pretty much their entire core of their team returning for a chance to run it back, the Bucs are one of the few teams that can draft using the veritable “best player available” approach. Oweh, despite having famously had zero college sacks in his final season at Penn State, flashed impressive athletic traits and potential as an elite pass-rusher. Plus, having Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul as mentors for an up-and-coming rookie edge rusher can’t hurt.
I’ll be entering using this mock draft in The Huddle Report’s Mock Draft Contest. If my mock this year is anything like my mock from last year, I’ll be solidly in the top 15 or 20 mocks (fingers crossed).
One last thing! I’m taking part in Football Outsiders’ Round 1 Recap Stream on April 29 starting at 11:30 p.m. on Twitch. FO head honcho Aaron Schatz will host the conversation with special guests Mike Tanier, Derrik Klassen, Scott Spratt, and yours truly. The stream will overview the entire first round including analysis from me about the biggest positive and negative Draft Surplus Value picks (selections made earlier or later than expectation) among other topics such as fantasy football, FO’s flagship projection metrics like QBASE and Playmaker Score, and football charting data among other things. It should be a really fun time so come out and hang with us. See you all then!
Benjamin Robinson is a data scientist living in Washington, D.C., and the creator of Grinding the Mocks, a project that tracks how NFL prospects fare in mock drafts. You can follow him on Twitter @benj_robinson and find the Grinding the Mocks project at grindingthemocks.com.